In presentation at the agency's public meeting Thursday, FCC officials suggested sharing of the vacant channels between TV stations was close to going online, but mobile unlicensed devices -- the ones broadcasters are more concerned about due to possible interference -- are still a couple of years away do to the technological challenges.
Julie Knapp, chief of the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology, said that the commission is currently beta testing the database for registering wireless microphones -- one of the current licensed TV band users also concerned about unlicensed interference -- saying that was the last step before the deployment of fixed a services like broadband to schools, machine-to-machine wireless communications and some municipal applications.
McDowell said it would probably be at least a couple of years. That is because the folks coming up with the chips for those smart mobile devices will need information that won't be available until the FCC figures out where broadcasters will be after repacking.
Sharing and clearing spectrum got a lot of attention at the meeting. The presentation went beyond what the FCC has already done in the TV band to suggest expanding that concept to other spectrum bands, particularly to the swaths of spectrum being used by government agencies, which are also being asked to find real estate to free up for commercial wireless broadband use.
Knapp said the President's Council of Advisors on Science & Technology Report due out this week is expected to recommend spectrum sharing in the government bands.
Commissioner Robert McDowell said he hoped the government would relinquish more spectrum, and said incentives hold some promise. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel agreed. Commercial Broadcasters are being offered a share of the revenues from the spectrum they agree to give up for auction. Saying it might be time for more carrots rather than sticks, Rosenworcel suggested that incentive of a cut of the auctions revenues could be extended to the government agencies being asked to share or relinquish spectrum. They are already getting moving expenses and money for planning thanks to the incentive auction legislation Rosenworcel was instrumental in developing while a communications adviser at the Senate Commerce Committee.
Rosenworcel said that given the spectrum crunch, the fcc was going to have to innovate, with more public and private investment in dynamic technology, new network structures like small cells (femtocells) that she said hold large promise, and putting incentive and other spectrum auctions on a timetable to speed that process. In a speech this week, commissioner Ajit Pai said the deadline for incentive auctions should be June 30, 2014.
Pai said the government should focus on clearing, rather than sharing, whenever possible, but also advocates an "all of the above strategy" to freeing up spectrum.
FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said he agreed with the "all of the above strategy," adding that he thought he had been the first one to talk about that very concept "some time ago." (That was one of two points in the meeting Thursday when the chairman weighed in following a pronouncement by one of the two new commissioners. In the other, during a presentation on the recent Derecho storm-related communications failures, Rosenworcel pointed out that she had called last week for an investigation of those outages. Genachowski followed that observation during his comments on the report with the repeated observation that the FCC began investigating those failures almost immediately after the June 29 storm.)
As he did in a House Small Business Committee hearing Wednesday, the chairman said that sharing was crucial to meeting the swelling broadband demand. "Old ways of unleashing spectrum for broadband are not enough," he said.