Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski stumped for incentive auctions in a speech Tuesday at the Washington headquarters of online coupon/deal site LivingSocial.
Genachowski said an auction, in which broadcasters would be compensated for vacating spectrum, was supported by "a number of TV station owners who recognize that these auctions would be a win-win," as well as by companies representing "a trillion dollars in revenue."
He pegged the payoff for "taxpayers" from the auction, or auctions, at $25 billion -- money left over after paying broadcasters and funding an interoperable emergency broadband network would go to the treasury.
"It's an incentive-based approach, grounded in strong free-market principles, that would free up large blocks of beachfront spectrum for mobile broadband while preserving a strong and healthy TV business."
Broadcasters have taken issue with the "strong and healthy" portion of that pitch, concerned that the repacking of stations the FCC will need to do to create a sufficiently large stretch of beachfront could reduce their coverage areas, increase the possibility of interference, and limit their ability to offer a range of services like mobile DTV, multicast channels, and potentially, 3D.
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chair of the House Communications Subcommittee, plans to mark up a version of a spectrum incentive auction bill next week. The President incorporated a Senate version backed by Senate Commerce Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) into his jobs bill.
Genachowski gave a shout-out to the Rockefeller bill in his speech, saying, "Thanks to the commitment of Senators Rockefeller and [co-sponsor Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey] Hutchison, this legislation was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee on a 21-4 bipartisan vote. But this bill still hasn't become a law. A spectrum crunch looms, and the costs of delay are significant and grow every day."
Even if an incentive auction bill passes this fall, getting that spectrum to market could take up to a decade. In the meantime, the FCC is vetting the AT&T-T-Mobile merger and AT&T's promise to roll out 4G wireless broadband to 97% of the country within five years, and is doing continued testing on a new nationwide wholesale 4G wireless network proposal from LightSquared.
President Barack Obama has made wireless broadband deployment a national priority.