FCC report: New wireless spectrum may be worth $120B

The FCC  released a white paper Thursday that said the value of the spectrum it plans to unleash between now and 2014 could be worth up to $120 billion.

Freeing more spectrum for wireless broadband is a cornerstone of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowksi's agenda. The commission's national broadband plan calls for releasing 300 MHz within the next five years and 500 MHz within the next 10 years to meet rising mobile data demands. According to the FCC, mobile data traffic is expected to be 35 times greater than 2009 levels by 2014.

"We can drive billions of dollars in private investment," Genachowski said at an FCC forum on the topic in Washington. "If we don't act to update our policies for the 21st century, we're going to run into a wall--a spectrum crunch."

Genachowski said that one key provision of the agency's plans--incentive auctions in which broadcasters voluntarily give up their spectrum in exchange for a share of the proceeds--is progressing. However, he did not say how many broadcasters have agreed to participate in the plan. The national broadband plan calls for getting 120 MHz of spectrum from TV broadcasters, which have been largely cool to the FCC's proposals.

"In the case of TV broadcasters, under our plan they could either continue to broadcast, share spectrum with one or more stations, return their spectrum, or move to VHF," he said. "I'm pleased that broadcasters are thinking seriously about what this value proposition means to them, how it can help their business. I appreciate the constructive engagement we've had with broadcasters on how we can make an incentive auction work."

The FCC will consider three spectrum-related agenda items during its monthly meeting in November. The first item is a notice of proposed rulemaking to establish incentive auctions in anticipation of congressional approval. The rules will create a licensing framework to allow for voluntary channel sharing. In the second item, the commission will consider expanding the FCC's experimental spectrum licensing to reduce the time it takes for ideas to become products. And finally, the FCC will launch an inquiry into how best to to accelerate opportunistic uses of spectrum--like the TV white spaces.

A key part of the white paper is the value placed on the spectrum the FCC wants to release. To put the $120 billion figure into context, the government raised around $19 billion in the 700 MHz auction, in which 100 MHz of spectrum was at stake.

The valuation and report was applauded by the Consumer Electronics Association the CTIA and other industry players. "The FCC report provides even more fact-based analysis demonstrating the need for the U.S. to move aggressively to make a large amount of additional spectrum available for broadband mobile services," T-Mobile USA CTO Neville Ray said in a statement. "Mobile data use is growing at an exceptional rate and ensuring that sufficient spectrum is available to meet the demand has economic and social benefits that cut across all levels of society."

Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, told Bloomberg that the group looks forward to working with the FCC to meet the needs of mobile broadband "without compromising the finest free and local broadcasting system in the world."

For more:
- see this speech by Genachowski
- see this FCC white paper
- see this Washington Post article
- see this National Journal article
- see this Bloomberg article
- see this Betanews article

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