FCC Proposing TV Spectrum Auction


The Federal Communications Commission plans to give broadcasters a chance to turn in their spectrum in exchange for an auction pay-off.
FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said Wednesday that, as part of the national broadband plan, the FCC will propose a voluntary "Mobile Future Auction" that will permit TV broadcasters and other licensees to give up spectrum in exchange for a share of the proceeds.
That came in a speech to the New America Foundation Wednesday as the FCC continues to unveil various portions of the broadband plan, due to Congress March 17.
"The Mobile Future Auction would allow broadcasters to elect to participate in a mechanism that could save costs for broadcasters while also being a major part of the solution to one of our country's most significant challenges."
The FCC has been talking about a market-based incentive to get some broadcasters--he said specifically ones in "spectrum-starved markets" to give up their spectrum for wireless reallocation.
In an interview with last month, Phil Bellaria, the FCC's lead staffer on the commission's spectrum reclamation plan, said that the broadband plan anticipated paying broadcasters to clear the spectrum on a voluntary basis, with a recommendation to the Hill as part of the plan, since Congress would have to approve any compensation.
Calling it part of an ambitious but straightforward plan, and saying wireless broadband was a "core goal" of the national broadband plan, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said Wednesday that the FCC will "accelerate the broad deployment of mobile broadband by moving to recover and reallocate spectrum."
Genachowski said that while the possibilities of mobile broadband are limitless, "its oxygen supply is not...Spectrum - our airwaves - really is the oxygen of mobile broadband service. Without sufficient spectrum, we will starve mobile broadband of the nourishment it needs to thrive as a platform for innovation, job creation and economic growth."
"Why look at broadcast spectrum as a major part of our spectrum strategic planning?," he asked, then proceeded to count the ways.
He said that analysts, companies and trade associations (which he didn't identify) "agree that a clear candidate for allocation is spectrum in the broadcast TV bands."
He cited a $50 billion figure that has been offered up for the value of broadcast spectrum that could be "unlocked," saying that suggested "inefficiencies" in the current broadcast allocation.
The National Association of Broadcasters has been arguing that broadcasters have already given up spectrum in the DTV transition, and need what they have left to deliver the kind of services, HD, multicast channels, and mobile, that will allow the industry to compete in a multiplatform world.
Genachowski disagreed. "The highly valuable spectrum currently allocated for allocated for broadcast television is not being used efficiently - indeed, much is not being used at all. About 300 megahertz of spectrum have been set aside for broadcast TV. In markets with less than 1 million people, only 36 megahertz are typically used for broadcasting. In cities with more than 1 million people, on average about 100 megahertz are used. Even in our very largest cities, at most only about 150 megahertz out of 300 megahertz are used."
He said that was still the case even after the DTV-related freeing up of spectrum.
"New technologies allow - indeed, they require - new strategic planning to ensure the most efficient use of spectrum, a vital public resource, especially given our broadband needs."
Genachowski said the auction and the voluntary give-back would be a win-win. Broadcasters, he said, "[W]in more flexibility to pursue business models to serve their local communities," while "the public "wins more innovation in mobile broadband services, continued free, over-the-air television, and the benefits of the proceeds of new and substantial auction revenues."
He should have added a third winner, the wireless industry.
"By proposing to free up 500 MHz of new spectrum for mobile broadband use, Chairman Genachowski has taken a tremendous step toward maintaining our worldwide mobile ecosystem leadership," said CTIA: The Wireless Industry, in a statement. "His recognition of the importance of reducing red tape and barriers to investment is also critical for the continued success of the wireless industry."