A key U.S. lawmaker expressed support on Thursday for a proposal by communications regulators to give auction proceeds to broadcasters as an incentive to give up some airwaves highly sought by wireless broadband providers.
Representative Rick Boucher, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, called the proposal by the Federal Communications Commission the right approach.
Last week the FCC unveiled its National Broadband Plan, a blueprint aimed at bringing faster Internet speeds to all U.S. households at affordable prices.
The blueprint, which was requested by Congress, also proposes that broadcasters like CBS Corp voluntarily give up some of their airwaves for auction to wireless broadband providers, with broadcasters getting some of the proceeds.
The approach, which would need Congressional approval, would give wireless carriers desperately needed spectrum for their mobile devices, such as the iPhone and Blackberry.
However, in a sign that there could be opposition to the plan, Democrat John Dingell said he was concerned because broadcasters already gave up airwaves during the digital transition, and it could hamper the promotion of diversity and localism.
Further loss of spectrum can have a very serious adverse affect on the public, Dingell said at the hearing to examine the FCC's broadband plan.
In the plan the FCC is seeking to free 500 megahertz of airwaves for mobile broadband services over the next decade. The agency wants additional authority from Congress to conduct those auctions.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and wireless companies such as AT&T Inc, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel Corp and T-Mobile, the U.S. unit of Deutsche Telekom AG, have been warning of a looming spectrum crisis. Verizon Wireless is a venture of Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc.
Members of the House panel did not say when they might introduce legislation to expand the FCC's auction authority.
Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, said committee members are working on auction legislation but also expressed concern that reallocating airwaves could cause harm to consumers and broadcasters.
The FCC is also proposing to auction a section of the airwaves called the D Block for commercial purposes. The proceeds of that auction is expected to fund an emergency broadband response network for firefighters, police and other public safety officials.
The chairman of the full committee, Henry Waxman, said he supports using the D Block auction proceeds for building the emergency system, which could cost between $12 billion and $16 billion to build and operate.
(Reporting by John Poirier; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Tim Dobbyn)