WASHINGTON, January 21, 2010 - The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet approved by voice vote legislation to inventory and help reallocate the nation's wireless spectrum. The panel marked up and unanimously approved H.R. 3125, the Radio Spectrum Inventory Act, and H.R. 3019, the Spectrum Relocation Improvement Act of 2009.
Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher, D-Va., expressed gratitude for the bipartisan process by which the bills had been drafted and introduced, and noted the growing importance of wireless spectrum to the nation's economic health and recovery.
"As more and more Americans use data-intensive smartphones and as services like mobile video emerge, the demand for spectrum to support these applications and devices will grow dramatically," he said. "Additional spectrum for commercial wireless services will be needed and it will be needed soon. "
The only amendment to either bill was a substitute amendment to H.R. 3125 authored by Boucher. Among the changes in the amendment, which was adopted by voice vote, were provisions strengthening protections for spectrum users who fear disclosure of their usage information could harm national security. The bill previously would have only allowed Federal agencies to object to disclosure of their spectrum use.
Boucher's amendment also added language that would require the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and Federal Communications Commission to update and maintain the national spectrum inventory on a regular basis, including making note of spectrum auctions and any manner of frequency license transfers or reassignments.
The Subcommittee also reported out favorably the Spectrum Relocation Improvement Act of 2009. The bill, which was not amended, would hasten the process by which spectrum users clear bands when directed so new licensees could take possession of spectrum that had previously been won at auction.
The bill seeks to address delays by Federal agencies in clearing bands of spectrum purchased by T-Mobile to build out the carrier's 3G network. The carrier has reported numerous delays by Federal agencies which cite national security concerns in refusing to release the spectrum.
Steve Largent, president of CTIA-The Wireless Association, which represents the nation's mobile industry, was pleased by the Subcommittee's quick action on the bill. But Largent expressed concern at the prospect of spectrum not being available to consumers, calling it "our industry's backbone," and warned of dire consequences in delaying further. "[R]apidly growing consumer demand for mobile broadband services means that we are facing a brewing spectrum crisis," he said. "These bills begin the process of helping free up additional spectrum for mobile broadband services."
Largent called on the full committee to take action and move the bill quickly: "We hope that the inventory and relocation improvement processes will precede and follow, respectively, a process to reallocate significant spectrum for advanced wireless services so that America’s wireless industry can continue to be the world’s leader."
Both bills move to the full Energy and Commerce Committee, which must approve them before either can be called up for a vote on the House floor. Similar Spectrum inventory language is also pending before the Senate Commerce Committee in the form of legislation sponsored by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.