Dems Still Hoping for Bipartisan Spectrum Bill

Republican legislation goes to markup Thursday

A new bill from House Republicans that would reallocate more spectrum for the wireless industry seems sure to move through committee, but Democrats are still hoping for a bipartisan bill.

Time is short, though. The Jumpstarting Opportunity with Broadband Spectrum (JOBS) Act of 2011 introduced Tuesday by Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., is already on the fast track; it's slated for markup Thursday before the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee, which Walden chairs.

The JOBS Act was the product of five hearings over the past year, but despite talks over the summer between Democrats and Republicans, the two sides failed to hammer out a bipartisan bill.

"Republicans regrettably ceased negotiations with us Oct. 4, just as the discussions started to get serious and significant progress looked possible. Despite our repeated requests, they never resumed negotiations. Spectrum legislation should be bipartisan, and we hope Chairman Walden and [Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich.] will return to the bargaining table," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.

Walden said the JOBS Act would create jobs and reduce the deficit by $15 billion by authorizing the Federal Communications Commission to conduct incentive auctions of TV broadcast spectrum voluntarily relinquished by broadcasters. The bill would also reallocate some spectrum to public safety and grant up to $6.5 billion to build out an interoperable broadband network.

"I am disappointed that we could not develop a bipartisan bill," Walden said. "But for the sake of the economy and public safety, we need to take the best ideas, which are represented in the JOBS Act, and move forward with a subcommittee vote on Thursday."

Update: Apparently hoping to put some pressure on Walden and the GOP, House Democrats offered up their own spectrum bill Tuesday afternoon. While the Dems are under no illusion that their bill will be taken up by the subcommittee, they are hoping that their language about the public safety network will draw the support of a Republican or two and force Walden to substitute their model for governing the network for his own.

"While there continue to be key policy differences with the approach taken by the Majority, I remain hopeful that Thursday's Subcommittee markup will provide an opportunity to debate these differences and finally reach a bipartisan compromise," said Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., who co-sponsored the Democratic bill with Waxman and eight other members.

The Democratic bill would also allow the FCC to conduct incentive auctions that would result in more spectrum being available for unlicensed use; the Republican version says any spectrum freed up must go towards licensed purposes. Both bills provide similar protections for TV broadcasters who choose not to voluntarily relinquish spectrum for auction.

The House Democrats’ bill, called the Wireless Innovation and Public Safety Act of 2011, builds on Senate legislation co-sponsored by Sens. John Rockefeller, D-W. Va., and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.