FCC's Genachowski: We're on track to free up 300 MHz of spectrum by 2015

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the agency is on track to exceed its goal of freeing up 300 MHz of spectrum for wireless use by 2015, a key element of the FCC's national broadband plan.


In a speech at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School yesterday, the FCC chief said that the agency is on track to auction 75 MHz of licensed AWS spectrum by 2015, including an auction of shared rights to the 1755-1780 MHz band, which could be paired with the 2155-2180 MHz band. He said the FCC next year will auction the AWS-2 H Block in the 1900 MHz PCS band, which Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) has been eyeing to use for LTE service.

Additionally, Genachowski said later this year the FCC "will finish removing outdated rules and restrictions" on 70 MHz of spectrum, including 40 MHz of 2 GHz MSS S-band spectrum that Dish Network holds as well as 30 MHz of 2.3 GHz WCS spectrum AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) wants to use for LTE.

Genachowski also pointed to the broadcast incentive auctions, which are scheduled to take place in 2014. The national broadband plan calls for 120 MHz to be freed up for wireless in the auction, but it might wind up producing much less than that. "While we can't know yet exactly how many megahertz incentive auctions will free up, the opportunity is large, particularly given the highly desirable nature of this 600 MHz spectrum for mobile broadband," he said. "There are also significant opportunities to clear and reallocate underutilized government spectrum for commercial use."

Finally, Genachowski talked up spectrum sharing, including the fact that unlicensed TV white space spectrum is now freed up in 6 MHz channels in many major markets and that by year-end the FCC will launch a formal proceeding to enable use of 100 MHz of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band for small cells. However, it could take years before carriers are able to use any of the targeted frequencies. Further, critics have said that for small cell networks to be effective, they need to be tightly integrated with an operator's macrocell networks, which may not be possible under a shared-spectrum scenario, particularly if the frequencies are unlicensed.

"So with 75 MHz from traditional auctions, 70 MHz from removing regulatory barriers, 100 MHz from dynamic sharing, and significant spectrum from incentive auctions, reallocations of government spectrum, and white spaces, we are on track to exceed the 300 MHz target by 2015," Genachowski said.

Looking ahead, Genachowski said the FCC would continue to push for technological innovation and "smart wireless government policies" aimed at sharing government spectrum with carriers, spurring mobile broadband buildout in rural areas and clearing inefficiently used spectrum and reallocating it for licensed flexible use.

"We must also recognize that the new realities make one conclusion unavoidable: the next generation spectrum crunch requires next-generation spectrum policy innovations," he said. "We must continue with policies that have worked, reforming and improving them as we go, while also supplementing our old tools with new ones."

Genachowski noted that the FCC's goals in its 2010 broadband plan were ambitious. "People questioned whether those goals were realistic at the time. People continue to question that," he said. "But I believe in stretch goals, especially given the global competitive landscape and the upside to our economy and country. Recognizing that it can take a decade or more to identify, reallocate, and auction spectrum, we've been using new and innovative ways to accelerate the availability of spectrum for broadband and meet our goals."

The FCC has also set a goal of freeing up 500 MHz of spectrum by 2020. The speech came shortly after the FCC voted to begin setting rules that will govern voluntary incentive auctions of broadcast TV spectrum for mobile broadband as well as a review of FCC rules for how much spectrum a carrier should be able to hold. Freeing up more spectrum has been a major policy goal of the CTIA and wireless carriers over the last several years.

For more:
- see this FCC document (PDF)
- see this IDG News Service article
- see this Broadcasting & Cable article

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