FCC to Auction Spectrum for 3G Services

The FCC on Thursday redirected a hefty chunk of the airwaves for third-generation wireless services.

In a widely anticipated vote, the Federal Communications Commission Thursday redirected a hefty chunk of the airwaves for advanced wireless services, also known as third-generation, or 3G, services. The decision is a boon to the wireless industry, which continuously lobbies for new frequencies in an era in which very little spectrum remains unused.

The FCC allocated 90MHz of spectrum for fixed services (such as high-speed wireless Internet access) and mobile service (such as cellular telephony) and proposed auctioning it off along the same terms as other wireless licenses in the same bands. A portion of the spectrum earmarked for 3G is used today by the federal government, and another portion was originally licensed for "wireless cable"-like services. Existing licensees will be relocated to other bands, the FCC said today.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell said that making the new spectrum available will promote the introduction of new services and play a role in restoring health to the telecom industry. "Todays decisions on the allocation and proposed service rules lay the groundwork for future innovation," Powell said in a statement accompanying the decision. "Within this framework, service providers can be expected to move spectrum quickly to its highest and best use."

The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA), the industrys largest lobby group, applauded the FCC decision. "Competition and innovation have been, and continue to be, the engine of growth for the wireless industry," said Tom Wheeler, president and CEO of CTIA in Washington, in a press release. "The FCCs initiative today helps clear the spectrum pathway the industry needs to further this economic growth."

Commissioner Michael Copps, the lone Democrat on the commission, cautioned against viewing the spectrum allocation as a magic bullet for the recovery of the wireless industry. "I hope that no one will think the FCC can magically make the current woes of the wireless industry go away by merely allocating new spectrum," Copps said in a separate statement. He also cautioned against championing Europes spectrum allocation as superior to that of the United States.

"Various European countries moved ahead with 3G allocations before we did," Copps said. "Many of these countries allocated large amounts of spectrum to 3G. Despite that, 3G has been less than a success in Europe."

Commissioner Kevin Martin said the spectrum allocation is part of a long-range plan, setting the stage for making more spectrum available in the next several years.

Also on Thursday, the FCC released recommendations from its Spectrum Policy Task Force, established in June. Among other things, the task force found that many spectrum bands are not efficiently used throughout the geographic areas they are licensed for, that technological advances—such as software-defined radios—can alleviate some of the spectrum shortage, and that the FCC needs to better define the rights and responsibilities of spectrum users.