FCC Chairman Proposes Auction for Increased Wireless Spectrum

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski believes that auctioning off some 500 megahertz of the wireless spectrum, currently held by television broadcasters, would be the best way to increase spectrum for mobile carriers and other providers, according to prepared remarks delivered to a New America Foundation event. The FCC has an ambitious National Broadband Plan, due to be revealed to Congress on March 17, that it hopes will allow the rate of broadband penetration in the United States to increase from 65 percent to 90 percent.

The Federal Communications Commission wants to increase the wireless spectrum available to mobile carriers by 500 megahertz over the next decade, a plan that involves auctioning off portions of spectrum currently held by television broadcasters and other providers. Reports indicate that the 500 megahertz could be worth as much as $50 billion.

That increase of the wireless spectrum is part of the FCC's ambitious National Broadband Plan, which will be revealed in full to Congress on March 17. Other parts of the plan include bringing affordable broadband access to a sizable percentage of the 93 million Americans who currently lack that service.

"One of the best ways for us to achieve the right balance in the supply and demand of spectrum is to establish market-based mechanisms that enable spectrum intended for the commercial marketplace to flow to the uses the market values most," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in prepared remarks delivered to a New America Foundation event in Washington, D.C., Feb. 24. "The Broadband Plan will recommend one such mechanism. It will propose a 'Mobile Future Auction'-an auction permitting existing spectrum licensees, such as television broadcasters in spectrum-starved markets, to voluntarily relinquish spectrum in exchange for a share of auction proceeds, and allow spectrum sharing and other spectrum efficiency measures."

The chairman suggested that broadcast television currently uses far less than the 300 megahertz of spectrum set aside for it, even in major cities. Nonetheless, any auction program would apparently be voluntary, and television broadcasters would receive an unspecified cut of the auction proceeds.

"Because of the billions of dollars of unlocked value in broadcast spectrum," Genachowski added, "and because of the current inefficient spectrum allocation, the Mobile Future Auction is a win-win proposal" for both broadcasters seeking a flexible business model and a public that would theoretically see more innovation from companies utilizing that freed spectrum.

Other parts of the National Broadband Plan cited by the chairman include a 700-megahertz public safety broadband network, paired with the establishment of an Emergency Response Interoperability Center within the FCC to "develop common technical standards for interoperability on the public safety broadband network from the start."

The United States currently trails a number of countries, including Japan and France, in its rate of broadband adoption. Genachowski has cited a goal of expanding U.S. broadband access from 65 percent to 90 percent of the population, supposedly instrumental in fostering advancement in areas such as education, health care, energy, public safety and entrepreneurship.