FCC chairman Julius Genachowski is scheduled to say that broadcasters that are not making "effective use of the capabilities of their spectrum" should have it put to a "higher use for other purposes."
That is according to the advance text of a speech scheduled for delivery at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Jan. 7.
The chairman's address apparently doesn't indicate what constitutes effective use, though fellow Democratic commissioner Michael Copps has suggested broadcasters have not been making full or best use of their digital subchannels.
But the chairman will make it clear that the higher and better use he was talking about was giving it up for mobile wireless broadband: "While American ingenuity and our appetite for wireless technology is limitless. Spectrum is not. And the coming spectrum crunch threatens American leadership in mobile and the benefits it can deliver to our economy and our lives."
Part of the speech is also devoted to a pitch for legislation authorizing incentive auctions, through which the FCC would encourage broadcasters and others to give up spectrum in exchange for a cut of the proceeds from the ensuing auction. Genachowski praised CEA in a letter to the new Congress this week calling for swift action on incentive auctions.
Congress has to grant the FCC the authority to compensate private users for auctions of their reclaimed public spectrum.
CEA has long argued that broadcasters have been underutilizing and overprotecting their spectrum allocations. CEA chief Gary Shapiro made that point clear Thursday in his keynote speech, applauding the FCC's plan to reclaim "underutilized spectrum," and saying broadcasters were "squatting, now, on our broadband future."
Genachowski plans to say the incentive auction would allow for a mechanism to "unleash the value of that spectrum for broadband," noting with that pressing need, "how can we justify shielding broadcast spectrum from market forces?"
His audience will also hear that the FCC would continue to work toward auctioning that spectrum, while also calling on Congress to move swiftly: "It's time to take the necessary steps to ensure that spectrum will be the great enabler of mobile innovation in the 21st century, not a chokepoint."
According to the speech, Genachowski will say unleashing spectrum is "at the top of the FCC's 2011 agenda," though it will be sharing the agenda with implementing network neutrality rules, voting on the Comcast/NBCU merger and a number of other broadband-related issues.
"If we don't tackle the spectrum challenge, network congestion will grow, and consumer frustration will grow with it. We'll put our country's economic competitiveness at risk, and squander the opportunity to lead the world in mobile."
The National Association of Broadcasters is not opposed to spectrum reclamation if it is voluntary, but has also said that broadcasters will need spectrum for services like mobile DTV and those multicast channels if they are to compete in the new digital world. NAB launched an on-air and online campaign this week promoting over-the-air broadcasting as a player in that digital space.