RealTime IT News

Spectrum Bill Sent to Full Senate

The Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday completed the mark-up of a bill that will clear airwaves for private companies to deploy additional third generation (3G) wireless services. But the legislation, "Bill 865: the Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act," doesn't go before the full Senate floor for ratification without controversy.

The Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act, introduced Commerce Committee Chairman McCain (R-AZ), Senator Dorgan (D-ND) and Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Burns (R-MT), seeks to help federal agencies relocate to comparable wavelengths to make way for private wireless carriers' advanced wireless service offerings to consumers. The government already has identified the 1710-1755 MHz band, used mainly by the military, for relocation to the private sector.

"Not only is the Spectrum Relocation bill a good management plan for the people's airwaves, it is also a good deal for wireless consumers," said Steve Berry, SVP of Government Affairs for the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA).

The spectrum is considered so valuable it has been dubbed "beachfront property." The House passed its version of the Spectrum Enhancement Act on June 11 by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 408 to 10.

But prior to the bill leaving the Senate Commerce committee, an amendment was added that prevents the spectrum of satellite communications services to be opened up to competitive bidding. The amendment, sponsored by Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and John Sununu (R-NH), is considered to be an extension of the Open-Market Reorganization for the Betterment of International Telecommunications (ORBIT) Act of 2000.

The Bush administration has committed its support for the spectrum relocation trust fund but sent a letter to lawmakers stating it didn't want to see any amendments attached to the bill.

The amendment extends existing law for the licensing of satellite services to fixed terrestrial services, such as the Multichannel Video Distribution and Data Service (MVDDS), which share spectrum with satellite services in the 12.2-12.7 GHz band. As usual with any actions taken inside the beltway, the amendment overshadowed the overall bill's passage and was accompanied by the usual rhethoric from supporter and detractors.

"The unrelated amendment added in Committee, which gives away spectrum to a commercial interest, is not consistent with the spectrum relocation legislation and it denies taxpayers revenues from the auction process. We hope the provision is dropped as the relocation bill moves forward," CTIA's Berry said.

But one company that has been the biggest supporter of the Sununu Amendment on Thursday declared the bill's 13-8 margin of victory in committee as a victory for consumers.

"This is a victory for consumers who currently pay too much for cable and broadband service, or worse, can't get service," said Toni Cook Bush, executive vice president at Northpoint Technology, a DC-based company that markets MVDDS technology that enabled wireless broadband service providers to share the space of digital broadcast satellite companies.

Because the amendment extends the auction exemptions of the ORBIT Act for satellite services and MVDDS, it "levels the playing field between satellite companies and terrestrial applicants like us," she explained.

Bush told internetnews.com that Northpoint will continue its lobbying efforts until the bill gets the President Bush's signature.

"Our goal is to have this amendment to stay as part of this bill and be enacted into law," Bush said during a telephone interview. "It's unfair to treat different companies that want to share the same federal resource differently."