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Friday, January 20, 2012

Spectrum Policy in the Age of Broadband: Issues for Congress

Linda K. Moore
Specialist in Telecommunications Policy

The convergence of wireless telecommunications technology with the Internet Protocol (IP) is fostering new generations of mobile technologies. This transformation has created new demands for advanced communications infrastructure and radio frequency spectrum capacity that can support high-speed, content-rich uses. Furthermore, a number of services, in addition to consumer and business communications, rely at least in part on wireless links to broadband (highspeed/ high-capacity) infrastructure such as the Internet and IP-enabled networks. Policies to provide additional spectrum for fixed or mobile broadband services are generally viewed as drivers that would stimulate technological innovation and economic growth.

In the 112th Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate have announced plans to address job creation and deficit reduction in bills that may include provisions to expedite the availability of spectrum for commercial use. Bills under consideration address deficit reduction, spectrum policy, public safety communications, and research and development for emerging communications technologies.

In December 2011, the House of Representatives approved the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2011 (H.R. 3630, Representative Camp). H.R. 3630, Title IV contains spectrum reallocation and assignment provisions from the Discussion Draft of the Jumpstarting Opportunity with Broadband Spectrum (JOBS) Act of 2011, as amended, approved in markup on December 1, 2011, by the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, House Committee on Energy and Commerce. H.R. 3630 is under consideration by a conference committee for which a major focus of discussion is an extension of payroll tax cuts and how to fund them. On the Senate side, some provisions for compromise legislation may come from the American Jobs Act of 2011 (S. 1549, S. 1660) and from the Public Safety and Wireless Innovation Act (S. 911, as amended, Senator Rockefeller). S. 911 received bipartisan approval by the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

These bills would, among other provisions: address incentive auctions, which would permit television broadcasters to receive compensation for steps they might take to release some of their airwaves for mobile broadband; require that specified federal holdings be auctioned or reassigned for commercial use; apply future spectrum license auction revenues toward deficit reduction; establish a planning and governance structure to deploy public safety broadband networks, using some auction proceeds for that purpose; and reassign spectrum resources available for public safety. The bills include provisions that would affect the development of new technologies and the availability of spectrum for unlicensed use and for shared use.

This report discusses key spectrum policy provisions in the bills, as well as other spectrum policy issues that are being considered in the 112th Congress, such as the role of wholesale networks like that being deployed by LightSquared.

Date of Report: January 5, 2012
Number of Pages: 26
Order Number: R40674
Price: $29.95

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