FCC plan calls for 500 MHz of new spectrum for wireless

WASHINGTON--FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the commission's national broadband plan will call for freeing up 500 MHz of spectrum over the next decade for mobile broadband use, noting that expanded wireless Internet access will be key to making America more technologically competitive.

FCC Chairman Julius GenachowskiIn a speech at the New America Foundation think tank, Genachowski laid out the FCC's priorities related to mobile broadband, which he said include recovering and reallocating spectrum, updating 20th century spectrum policies, removing barriers to broadband buildout, lowering the costs of deployment and promoting competition. The commission will deliver its national broadband plan to Congress March 17.

Genachowski returned to a theme he has hit on before: that the U.S. is facing a spectrum crunch. To reach the 500 MHz goal, Genachowski said the FCC would propose a "Mobile Future Auction," a spectrum auction that would allow current licensees, including broadcasters, to voluntarily give up spectrum in exchange for a share of auction proceeds. It would also allow for spectrum sharing and other spectrum efficiency measures.

"The Mobile Future Auction would allow broadcasters to elect to participate in a mechanism that could save costs for broadcasters while also being a major part of the solution to one of our country's most significant challenges," Genachowski said.

Genachowski also described backhaul for wireless as a "critical challenge," and said the FCC "will be addressing a series of initiatives to bring fiber as far and as deep in the network as possible."

The CTIA and wireless carriers have been clamoring for more wireless spectrum, and broadcasters have been targeted as a potential source of more. In the past, the CTIA has called for at least 800 MHz of additional licensed wireless spectrum.

Genachowski said some broadcast spectrum is not being used efficiently, or at all. He noted that in markets with less than 1 million people, only 36 MHz of the 300 MHz allotted for broadcasters is being used, and that in the largest markets, only about 150 MHz is used. "It typically takes quite some time from the beginning to the end of [an FCC] strategic spectrum reallocation process," he said. "But the clock is ticking on our country's mobile broadband leadership opportunity and our global competitiveness challenge, and we have to get started."

Genachowski said the FCC's plan also will lay out spectrum for "opportunistic" uses. He noted that people used to call certain spectrum bands "junk bands" until the FCC released them, and companies invented Bluetooth and WiFi technologies for them.

The chairman noted that there are still areas of the country that don't have access to mobile broadband, including 23 percent of people in Alaska and 29 percent in West Virginia. To increase adoption, the FCC will propose a "Mobility Fund" as part of broader reforms to the Universal Service Fund. The mobile fund, which will not add to the total size of the USF, will look to provide one-time support for deployment of mobile broadband infrastructure so that all states meet a minimum level of mobile availability.

While not getting into specifics, Genachowski also said the FCC will seek to create a mobile broadband network for first responders in the 700 MHz band "through public-private partnerships between public safety and 700 MHz commercial providers, including, but not limited to, a commercial licensee of the 'D block.'"

"If we get it right, broadband, and in particular mobile broadband, will be an enduring engine for creating jobs and growing our economy, for spreading knowledge and enhancing civic engagement, for advancing a healthier, sustainable way of life," he said. "This is our moment. Let's seize it."

Not surprisingly, CTIA voiced support for the chairman's remarks.

"By proposing to free up 500 MHz of new spectrum for mobile broadband use, Chairman Genachowski has taken a tremendous step toward maintaining our worldwide mobile ecosystem leadership," said CTIA chief Steve Largent. "His recognition of the importance of reducing red tape and barriers to investment is also critical for the continued success of the wireless industry."

Though Genachowski could score points for freeing more spectrum, the chairman has come under fire for his plan to levy net neutrality regulations on wireless networks.

For more:
- see this CTIA release
- see the full text of Genachowski's speech

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