The FCC on Tuesday officially revealed the long-awaited National Broadband Plan, but few details were a surprise given the commission's various leaks about its details during the past few months.
The plan has turned out to be a coup for the wireless industry as it calls for increasing wireless spectrum to accommodate the explosion of mobile data services. The FCC wants to free up 500 MHz of new spectrum for mobile broadband in the next 10 years, of which 300 MHz between 225 MHz and 3.7 GHz should be made available within five years.
"If the U.S. does not address this situation promptly, scarcity of mobile broadband could mean higher prices, poor service quality, an inability for the U.S. to compete internationally, depressed demand and, ultimately, a drag on innovation," the plan states. The plan also argues for the need "to address other potential network bottlenecks that inhibit speed, including backhaul and other point-to-point applications."
The FCC said a key element of freeing up spectrum would be to obtain 120 MHz from TV broadcasters. Under the plan, broadcasters would voluntarily exchange their spectrum for a share in the resulting revenues from the auction of that spectrum, an action Congress would have to authorize.
"The voluntary, market-based reallocation should be implemented in a way that will have limited long-term impact on consumers overall, broadcast business models and the public interest, including the FCC's goals with respect to competition, diversity and localism," the plan states. "Moreover, the substantial benefits of more widespread and robust broadband services would outweigh any impact from reallocation of spectrum from broadcast TV."
What if the commission does not get authorization for such auctions, or if the auctions do not produce enough spectrum? The plan calls for the FCC to look for alternatives including a "transition to a cellular architecture on a voluntary or involuntary basis."
Meanwhile, TV broadcasters are gearing up for a spectrum battle as they sense that somehow the FCC's plan isn't so voluntary in the long run. If the FCC can't get enough volunteers, the plan recommends it looks to a series of rule-making procedures to force broadcasters out of the spectrum. These rules may require changing the broadcasting technical architecture, moving to an overlay license auction or instituting more extensive channel sharing.
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