FCC's broadband plan faces major hurdles

Ahead of the FCC's official release of its national broadband plan, key parts of the initiative are drawing intense opposition, particularly from broadcasters leery about giving up spectrum and lawmakers concerned by the plan's cost.

The FCC has been doling out morsels of information about the plan ahead of its March 17 release date. One key provision, a "Mobile Future Auction," is a spectrum auction that would allow current licensees, including broadcasters, to voluntarily give up spectrum in exchange for a share of auction proceeds. That is one element of a plan to free up 500 MHz of spectrum over the next decade for mobile broadband use. The wireless industry, including the CTIA, has applauded the plan's vision. However, broadcasters are worried the voluntary aspect of the plan may become mandatory.

Not surprisingly, the FCC has acknowledged the challenges it faces in implementing the effort. "If it were easy, [this reform] would have been done a long time ago," Blair Levin, the head of the FCC's broadband plan task force, said in an interview with BusinessWeek. Levin said many broadcasters have told the FCC they will sell their spectrum, but if not enough do, the FCC will have to take another look at the plan.

The National Association of Broadcasters trade group last month offered a generally downbeat view of the FCC's plan. "As a one-to-many transmission medium, broadcasters are ready to make the case that we are far and away the most efficient users of spectrum in today's communications marketplace," said NAB Executive Vice President of Media Relations Dennis Wharton. "We look forward to working with policymakers to help expand the roll out of broadband without threatening the future of free and local television, mindful of the fact that local TV stations just returned more than a quarter of our spectrum following our transition to digital."

The plan's price tag--which includes $12 billion to $16 billion in funding for a nationwide, interoperable broadband network for first responders--is also drawing criticism. Congress already has approved $7.2 billion in stimulus spending for broadband, and may be loathe to tack on additional spending in an election year.

For more:
- see this BusinessWeek article

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