Genachowski: Spectrum Auctions Voluntary, Period


Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius
Genachowski on Tuesday pitched the agency's spectrum reclamation plans as a
compromise between taking all 300 Megahertz from broadcasters and doing
nothing, saying some of the things that had been said and written about the
proposal were not true.

In a keynote speech to the National Association of
Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas, Genachowski said the incentive auctions
for broadcast spectrum would be entirely voluntary; that it would not take many
stations' participation to get the 120 MHZ of spectrum in mostly urban markets
that the FCC needs; and that broadcasters would be able to set their own floor
price for their spectrum. He also expressed confidence that the FCC would not
have to go to a plan B necessitated by not getting enough spectrum the first
time around.

Julius Genachowski

The FCC has a five-year plan for getting that spectrum back
from broadcasters
to turn over for wireless broadband use.

In his speech at NAB, Genachowski
praised broadcasters for their public service before laying out the case for a
looming spectrum crisis and the reauctioning of spectrum collected from
broadcasters and others.

"Some have suggested that all 300 MHz now allocated to
broadcasting should be reclaimed and auctioned," he said, according to a prepared
text of his speech. "Others take the view that the status quo is fine; no
change needed. The Broadband Plan recommends neither course.  Instead, it lays out a well-balanced plan
designed to be a win-win-win for broadcasters, mobile Internet providers, and
the American people."

He used words like "voluntary" and "choice."

"It proposes voluntary incentive auctions -- a process for
sharing with broadcasters a meaningful part of the billions of dollars of value
that would be unlocked if some broadcast spectrum was converted to mobile
broadband. "The plan would give broadcasters the choice to contribute their
licensed spectrum to the auction and participate in the upside," he said.

Genachowski said it would be "fine" if the large majority of
broadcasters weren't interested in taking the FCC up on the offer. Just one day
, NAB president Gordon Smith likened
that offer to one from the mob that could not be refused.

But Genachowski also said that broadcasters who want to
contribute half their capacity and share with another broadcaster, for example,
should not be denied that opportunity.

"A lot has been said and written about this auction
proposal, including at this conference, that just isn't accurate," he said.

The FCC chief said the auctions were "voluntary, period.
Participation is up to the licensee and no one else." He said the commission
does not need " all, most, or even very many" licensees to participate to make
it work.

Genachowski also said the broadcasters would be allowed to
set a reserve price below which their licenses would not be auctioned.

He said the suggestion the FCC wanted to drive broadcasters
out of business is "not so." He said noone will be forced to participate in
spectrum auctions.

The spectrum reclamation plan will not prevent the
deployment of mobile DTV, said Genachowski, who added that broadcasters who
give up some spectrum would still be able to provide it.

"I'm pleased that the DTV transition has enabled the
development of standards and the launch of market trials for mobile DTV," he
said. "Our job is not to predict innovation or business models, but to enable

"Under the incentive auction plan, broadcasters will be able
to provide mobile DTV, both licensees that choose to retain all 6 Megahertz,
and those that choose to share," Genachowski continued.

As to the $64,000 question -- which is what happens if the
FCC cannot get back all the spectrum it needs through this voluntary program --
Genachowski said he did not believe it would come to that, or that the country "can
afford for it to come to that."

He asked broadcasters to accept his offer to work
constructively to help the commission flesh out the proposal, and announced he
would convent an engineers' forum "which will enlist broadcast, mobile and
other engineers to address concrete technical issues raised by the plan and
help develop the best path forward."

One small-market TV operator was not assuaged. "It wasn't thumbs up, it wasn't thumbs down, it was just there."