Verizon CEO Does Not Back FCC Spectrum-Reclamation Proposal

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Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg thinks the Federal Communications Commission should not try to get spectrum back from broadcasters, that there won't be the kind of spectrum shortage the agency's national broadband plan predicts, and that market forces and technology should take care of whatever shortage there is, likely driven by the rise in online video.

"[C]onfiscating the spectrum and repurposing it for other things, I'm not sure I buy into the idea that that's a good thing to do," he said this week. The commission has  made spectrum reclamation part of that plan in order to free it up for wireless companies like, well, Verizon to provide wireless broadband and handle all those new bandwidth hungry apps. The commission sees wireless as a major player in universal broadband service.

Seidenberg's observation came during an interview this week with The Wall Street Journal deputy managing editor Alan Murray for think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations, and an audience that included a number of financial advisors and investors.

Asked by an audience member how he thought the FCC's effort to get broadcasters to give up 120MHz of spectrum would shake out, he said the answer would probably come as a surprise.

"If I took the self-serving approach," he said, "it would be: 'Okay, screw the broadcasters. Let's get their spectrum and we can put it to use in our wireless and cellular business or broadband business.' "

But he said his reaction was, instead, that the FCC should let the marketplace work it out without intervention. "I don't think the FCC should tinker with this," he said. "I think the market's going to settle this. So in the long term, if we can't show that we have applications and services to utilize that spectrum better than the broadcasters, then the broadcasters will keep the spectrum."

Seidenberg suggested that maybe the FCC was looking in the wrong place, anyway. "Cable companies have bought spectrum over the last 10 or 15 years that's been lying fallow," he said. "So, here the FCC is out running around looking for new sources of spectrum, and we've got probably 150 megahertz of spectrum sitting out there that people own that aren't being built on. I don't get that. This annoys me."

Seidenberg wasn't saying that there might not be a spectrum shortage, but that he thought technology would likely solve the problem. "I think what you need is you need to allow natural forces to drive capital to where they're naturally going to work. So Sprint and Clearwire are building a 4G network. We're building a 4G network. AT&T's going to build one

"If video takes off, could we have a spectrum shortage in five or seven years? Could be, but I think that technology will tend to solve these issues. And I happen to think that we'll advance fast enough that some of the broadcasters will probably think, let me cash out and let me go do something different. I think the market will settle it. So I don't think we'll have a spectrum shortage the way this document suggests we will."

The FCC has framed the proposal as a voluntary one, targeting mostly urban markets with numerous stations, but it has not made clear what it would do if broadcasters did not give up the requisite 120 MHZ within five years, suggesting it had other methods. Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) this week asked the FCC commissioners for an answer to the question whether those methods would also be voluntary.

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