* Public safety spurs push for incentive auction authority
* Industry sources optimistic about passing bill in 2011
* Lawmakers still have to compromise on "D Block" airwaves
By Jasmin Melvin
WASHINGTON, Sept 13 Washington insiders have
high hopes for legislation this year that would open up large
swaths of spectrum to wireless companies desperate to meet the
booming demand for data-heavy wireless devices.
Language giving the U.S. Federal Communications Commission
authority to auction some airwaves currently held by TV
broadcasters is popping up in bills in both chambers of
Congress, as well as in President Barack Obama's jobs plan.
Analysts say these incentive auctions, where some of the
proceeds would go to the broadcasters giving up spectrum, are
also likely to be part of the debate for the bipartisan
congressional "super committee" tasked with slashing at least
$1.2 trillion from the U.S. deficit over 10 years.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated auctions of TV
spectrum would generate $24.5 billion, while Obama's proposed
jobs bill eyes some $28 billion in proceeds from the auctions.
"This is one of the rare instances where you see moving on
an idea will actually generate revenues for the Treasury," said
Rhod Shaw, executive director of the High Tech Spectrum
Coalition that includes Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Nokia Corp
NOK1V.HE, Cisco Systems Inc (CSCO.O) and Qualcomm Inc
"The issue now becomes what is the final deal ... And I
think there is a reason to believe this can actually get
The need for a national, common communications system for
first responders has added momentum to the debate.
First responders still cannot easily talk to emergency
personnel outside of their division or unit a decade after
airliners hijacked by al Qaeda operatives killed nearly 3,000
"Shame on the Congress," Representative Anna Eshoo, the top
Democrat on the House Communications and Technology
Subcommittee, told Reuters last week.
Auction proceeds not set aside for TV broadcasters giving
up spectrum would help fund the construction and maintenance of
a wireless public safety network. Any money left over after
that would go toward reducing the U.S. budget deficit.
Although they failed to pass a bill before the symbolic
Sept. 11 date, Democrats say the momentum is there to get a
bill signed this year.
Eshoo said she is hopeful her subcommittee is on the
threshold of introducing bipartisan legislation for a
nationwide broadband network for first responders.
Republicans are also keen to usher in improved
communications capabilities for emergency personnel while
generating revenue for deficit reduction.
"The nice thing is this discussion has not been should we
do incentive auctions, it's now how do we do incentive
auctions," said David Redl, counsel for the Republican-led
House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Still, much of the talk about incentive auction authority
is tied to the public safety network and lawmakers remain split
on fundamental elements of its build-out.
Of particular contention is how to handle 10 megahertz of
highly sought after airwaves called the D Block, which will
provide the infrastructure for the network.
Generally, Democrats want to allocate the airwaves to
public safety, while Republicans want to see it auctioned to a
wireless company who would be required to give first responders
priority access on its network during emergencies.
"It won't be easy to come to a meeting-of-the-minds because
you're coming up on an election year," said Medley Global
Advisors analyst Jeffrey Silva.
But the revenue-generating potential of the auctions,
coupled with the super committee's need to find trillions of
dollars in savings, left Silva believing there is a "decent
chance" of passing public safety and incentive auction
legislation this year.
"It's a very powerful legislative vehicle for that
legislation to ride on," Silva added.
(Reporting by Jasmin Melvin; editing by Andre Grenon)