NTIA Targets 2013 For Beginning Broadcast Spectrum Transition

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The Federal Communications Commission will need to identify the spectrum it is reclaiming for wireless broadband by the middle of next year and start transitioning broadcasters off their spectrum or onto new channels in the VHF band or into channel sharing arrangements by the beginning of the second quarter of 2013.

That is according to a just-released timetable from the National Telecommunications & Information Administration.

The FCC plans to launch a rulemaking and inquiry into spectrum relocation at its Nov. 30 meeting. It is looking to reclaim 120 MHz of spectrum from broadcasters and auction it for wireless broadband.

The NTIA timetable tracks pretty closely with the broadcast spectrum reallocation timetable on the FCC's National Broadband Plan action agenda, which had a 2010 target for a rulemaking proposal, a 2011 date for a final order, though it suggested starting the auctions of the spectrum in 2012.

FCC sources have indicated that 120 MHz is a target rather than a mandate, and getting any spectrum voluntarily from broadcasters will almost certainly require Congress to approve legislation to compensate broadcasters out of the auction proceeds.

NTIA outlined its plans Monday in two reports, a 10-year plan for freeing up 500 MHz--of which the FCC timetable above was a part--and a "fast track" assessment that turned up 115 MHz of government spectrum. NTIA chief Larry Stricklng had already telegraphed that 115 MHz of spectrum last month as coming from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (15 MHz from spectrum used mostly by weather satellites and balloons) and the Defense Department (100 MHz from spectrum used for naval radar).

The White House, in a report from NTIA, had requested that "fast track" assessment of possible available government spectrum last month. NTIA, which is part of the Department of Commerce, is the chief telecom advisory arm of the administration.

Senate Communications Subcommittee chairman John Kerry said he would do his part to clear a legislative path to freeing up more spectrum. "[NTIA's plan] presents a roadmap and urges legislative action authorizing voluntary incentive auctions to enable the reallocation of privately held spectrum that is going unused or underutilized," he said in a statement. "[P]rivate firms need access to more space in the public airwaves so they can innovate and unleash that next generation of jobs here in America. I'm committed to getting this done and will make it a priority going into the next Congress."

"We believe that NTIA's efforts to free government spectrum for licensed commercial use are essential to helping the U.S. wireless industry maintain our world leadership in mobile innovation, and we will carefully review NTIA's report," said Steve Largent, president of CTIA - The Wireless Association

The wireless industry has been pushing the government to free up as much as 800 MHz over the next decade--the government's current target is 500--saying there is a growing spectrum crunch/crisis.

The cable industry has a growing stake in wireless spectrum. Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks are partners in the Clearwire wireless broadband service, while Comcast, the nation's largest cable operator, just announced an app that would allow digital customers to access its content on iPads.

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