Washington --- Eyeing tens of billions in potential revenues
from a re-auction of private and government spectrum, and its reuse to power
broadband innovation across the country, President Obama has put the Federal
Communications Commission's National Broadband Plan to reclaim 500 MHz on a
fast track. But the president's proposal does not support forcing broadcasters
or other private stakeholders into giving up spectrum.
Citing the looming spectrum crunch, the White House outlined
June 28 a four-point plan to fast-track the process. That will include an Oct.
1, 2010, deadline for identifying spectrum that can be made available within
And the White House is not waiting around for a bill,
currently held up in Congress, that requires a spectrum inventory. A senior
White House official said the FCC and others should not have to wait for that
bill to proceed with an inventory or begin auctions. But while the
administration supports a voluntary reclamation of spectrum, a senior White
House official, speaking on background, said the president did not support
making that process mandatory.
"The president supports a voluntary approach, one in
which people are only giving up the amount of spectrum they are using if it is
something they want to do based on the compensation they are getting ... [the
memorandum] is not endorsing mandatory. The whole philosophy is
win-win-win." The official said the administration is confident sufficient
spectrum can be obtained voluntarily.
Actually, the White House sees four "wins" in that
equation, saying in a White House release further outlining the process that it
will provide gains for "incumbent spectrum holders, new licensees of the
released spectrum, consumers who use the new services made possible by the
released spectrum, and the federal Treasury."
Broadcasters have said they would be willing to work with
the administration on the goal of expanding broadband, but are concerned that
the process is not as voluntary as it seems.
The president issued a memorandum on the spectrum fast-track
proposal Monday, saying that "America's future competitiveness and global
technology leadership depend, in part, upon the availability of additional
spectrum. The world is going wireless, and we must not fall behind...we can use
our American ingenuity to wring abundance from scarcity, by finding ways to use
spectrum more efficiently. We can also unlock the value of otherwise
underutilized spectrum and open new avenues for spectrum users to derive value
through the development of advanced, situation-aware spectrum-sharing technologies."
The four main points of the plan are: 1) "Identify and
plan for the release of 500 MHz of spectrum," preferably as early as this
October; "Provide the tools needed to effectively reallocate
spectrum," which would include incentive auctions for broadcasters and
money for up-front planning and for federal agencies, say money for high-speed
rail for the Department of Transportation; 3) " Enable spectrum to be put
to its highest value uses," which means licensed mobile broadband and
unlicensed uses; and 4) Use the auction proceeds to promote public safety,
job-creating infrastructure investment and deficit reduction; a White House
official said priority for auction proceeds would be for an interoperable
communications network, though the White House is not endorsing a particular
plan for achieving that.
"The administration's strong actions on wireless
broadband will move us significantly towards sustainable economic success,
robust investment, and global leadership in innovation," said FCC chairman
Julius Genachowski in a statement.
"The Presidential Memorandum released today recognizes
the importance of spectrum to America's economic growth and the urgent need to
make the most use of this limited resource while protecting vital federal
operations," said National Telecommunications and Information Administration
administrator Lawrence Strickling. "NTIA welcomes the president's
challenge and has already initiated work with the FCC and other federal
agencies. By supporting the growth of wireless broadband and technologies in
America, we are laying the groundwork for greater innovation, new 21st century
jobs, and enhanced global competiveness."
Free Press policy counsel Chris Riley praised the proposal,
but was looking for a shout-out from the president on the FCC's broadband
"We are glad the White House is taking the necessary
steps to help move a crucial piece of the National Broadband Plan," said
Riley in a statement. "We encourage the administration to support the rest
of the plan, which is now in jeopardy, by endorsing FCC Chairman Genachowski's
Third Way proposal to restore the agency's broadband oversight authority."