House OK's bill to ease spectrum moves

The House of Representatives has overwhelmingly passed legislation that many government and industry officials agree will streamline radio spectrum management and remove obstacles to agencies' ability to move to other wavelengths.

The Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act (H.R. 1320) passed June 11 by a vote of 408 to 10. Its sponsor is Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee.

Upton said he authored the legislation to allow federal agencies to relocate to comparable wavelengths while allowing private industry to further develop wireless technology.

The act creates a Spectrum Relocation Fund that will be seeded by Federal Communications Commission auctions. It will be used to reimburse incumbent federal agencies that are relocated elsewhere along the radio spectrum as a result of the auction.

Currently, the winning bidder in a spectrum auction must negotiate with the incumbent to determine proper reimbursement costs. This is a time-consuming and inefficient process that the fund will help simplify and streamline, according to a spokesman for the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The Bush administration strongly supported passage of H.R. 1320 because it believes that the fund will streamline the process for reimbursing government users, facilitate their relocation to comparable points on the spectrum, and provide greater certainty to auction bidders and incumbents.

During comments on the House floor, Upton showcased three letters supporting the legislation: one from the Office of Management and Budget on behalf of the Bush administration, one from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and one from Steven Berry, senior vice president of government affairs at the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association.

"Passage of H.R. 1320 would significantly improve spectrum management for both government spectrum users and for the commercial wireless industry," Berry's letter said. "The current process is a 'black hole' for both government agencies and the private sector — filled with uncertainty, punctuated by unknown costs and bereft of predictability. The current process works for no one."

James Lewis, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said legislation's only potential weakness is "whether the fund will actually match the real [relocation] costs" of the government incumbent. He added that the Defense Department is one of the primary agencies that will be relocated, but as long as all "costs are covered, everyone's happy."

Assistant Commerce Secretary Nancy Victory said she was pleased by the House legislation's progress and is looking forward to working with the Senate. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, introduced the Senate version of the bill, the Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act (S. 865), in April.

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