Wireless TowerLegislation introduced in the House of Representatives this week aims to encourage government agencies to give up or share their spectrum holdings in exchange for receiving some of the proceeds from an auction of the spectrum to wireless service providers. It’s the same idea that inspired the upcoming voluntary broadcast spectrum auction and would be handled in much the same way.

The bill, to be known as the Federal Spectrum Incentive Act of 2013, was introduced by Brett Guthrie, a Kentucky Republican, and California Democrat Doris Matsui. Co-sponsoring the bill are Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-Cal.), Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), and Ranking Member Anna Eshoo (D-Cal.)

In an announcement about the legislation, Matsui said yesterday that she hoped government agencies will see the auction as an “opportunity that will be hard to refuse.”

“As the single largest spectrum user in the country, the United States government must be more efficient in managing our spectrum,” said Matsui. “By providing financial incentives for the first time, this bipartisan legislation will serve as a model to encourage the government to reallocate non-critical spectrum for commercial purposes.”

All federal agencies holding federal spectrum would be eligible to participate in the proposed auction.

The bill would give “auction-like” authority to the Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act as an “alternative to the relocation cost recovery provisions of the Spectrum Relocation Trust Fund,” yesterday’s release said.

The FCC’s National Broadband Plan, released in 2010, set a goal of freeing up 500 MHz of spectrum for commercial use within 10 years and identified specific blocks of government spectrum that were likely candidates for re-purposing.

Government agencies likely will be more receptive to that idea if there is a financial incentive. And they may be even more willing to participate if they can share their spectrum with commercial users rather than relinquishing it totally.

The idea of sharing spectrum has gained momentum since database technology was developed to enable commercial entities to share TV broadcast spectrum with users of wireless microphones.

Late last year the FCC proposed to allow commercial users to share spectrum in the 3550-3650 band with government users if the commercial users reserved the spectrum for small cell use.  And in June, President Obama directed federal agencies to pursue spectrum sharing opportunities.

The upcoming voluntary broadcast spectrum auction should provide valuable lessons about how to run an incentive auction.  But interested parties will have to wait longer than originally anticipated before those lessons will be known.

On Friday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a blog post that the broadcast spectrum auction is now targeted for mid-2015. It was originally planned for 2014.

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