Lawmakers in the House and Senate have revived efforts begun in 2013 to free up commercial access to government spectrum resources, by introducing companion bills that offer incentives for federal agencies to relinquish their spectrum for wireless broadband and other uses.  Versions of the Federal Spectrum Incentive Act, which was introduced late last week in the House and Senate, resemble legislation that cleared the House Energy and Commerce Committee in December 2013 but that later stalled for lack of action.

Although copies of the current House and Senate bills were not immediately available, Congressional Spectrum Caucus Co-Chairs and bill co-sponsors Brett Guthrie (R-KY) and Doris Matsui (D-CA) confirmed in a press statement that the House measure (H.R. 1641) mirrors the bill introduced in the previous Congress and provides “financial incentives to encourage government agencies to relocate from their existing spectrum bands.”  

The 2013 bill sought to establish for government licensees incentive auctions that correspond with the broadcast incentive auction process instituted by Congress under the 2012 Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act.  Like television broadcasters, federal spectrum users who participate voluntarily in the incentive auction would receive a percentage of the auction proceeds. Guthrie and Matsui remarked that agencies “could use these funds to accommodate relocation costs or to offset sequestration costs.”  

Sponsors of the companion Senate bill include Senate Commerce Committee members Deb Fischer (R-NE) and Ed Markey (D-MA).  As Guthrie described the House measure as “a game changer,” Markey declared that passage of the Federal Spectrum Incentive Act “will help free up underutilized spectrum for companies, raise revenue, and reduce the deficit.”  Similar opinions were voiced by members of the wireless industry.