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.”

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