April 09, 2003, 8:58 PM — A U.S. House subcommittee has voted to approve a bill that would ease the transition of radio spectrum from government agencies to private companies, such as wireless carriers interested in providing third-generation (3G) services.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet approved Wednesday an amended version of the Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act, which would allow government agencies to recoup spectrum moving-costs from a newly created Spectrum Relocation Fund. Money for the fund would come from auctions of wireless spectrum to private companies.
The bill attempts to address wireless spectrum auctions on the horizon. In July 2002, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced that 90 MHz of wireless spectrum would be made available for 3G. Of that total, 45 MHz would come from commercial spectrum and 45 MHz from the Department of Defense and other federal agencies. The federal government plans to auction that spectrum to wireless vendors by early 2005, and estimates the spectrum will be available for wireless customers some time in 2008.
Two amendments proposed by Democrats to transfer the excess money in the proposed Spectrum Relocation Fund were withdrawn after Upton promised future hearings on those requests. Representative Ed Markey's Digital Dividends Fund would have dedicated the excess money to technology education and wireless equipment for emergency workers, such as police and firefighters.
"The public deserves to reap the benefits of the sale of licenses to its airwaves," said Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, before withdrawing his amendment. "Those benefits should not only manifest themselves in the offering of new commercial services and a temporary infusion of cash in the treasury, as under current law, and I have proposed the public also enjoy the dividends that can be reaped by reinvesting auction money."
The bill will now head to the full committee, but subcommittee chairman Fred Upton said he's not sure when the committee will consider the bill. The bill may also face some opposition from members of the House Appropriations Committee, predicted Representative Billy Tauzin, because it bypasses their budgeting authority.
Tauzin, who chairs the full Energy and Commerce Committee, said the members of his committee need to "pull together as a team" to get the bill passed through the House. "Relocation will never occur if federal agencies are subjected to the appropriations process to relocate spectrum operations," added Tauzin, a Louisiana Republican. "By putting a guarantee that this money will be available, we make (relocation) possible. If we do it any other way, it doesn't work. We've got to sell that to some people as we go forward."