FCC scraps plan to take spectrum from broadcasters

The FCC is putting aside a plan that required broadcasters to give up some of their spectrum holdings for wireless broadband use, a commission official said, noting the action was never seriously considered. Instead, the current proposal allows broadcasters to decide whether to sell their spectrum to the government.

Phil Bellaria, the director of scenario planning for the FCC's broadband task force, said the current draft plan would allow broadcasters to continue to transmit in HD, multicast or on mobile devices.

"The reality is that we are not trying to take spectrum from any individual broadcaster unless that broadcaster chooses to do it," he told Broadcasting & Cable.

"Where we have landed is a scenario that establishes a voluntary marketplace mechanism so that broadcast TV stations have a choice in how they want to use their spectrum," Bellaria said. "That choice could include retaining all of it and continue to broadcast in HD with broadcast and mobile; relinquishing some of it, because there are many stations not using all of the bandwidth available to it; or in some cases stations making the decision to relinquish all of their spectrum."

However, Bellaria, a former executive with Charter Communications, said the commission may have to revisit the spectrum issue again. Spectrum has been a key component of the FCC's national broadband plan, which the commission expects to submit to Congress in March.

Virtually all of the stakeholders in the debate--the CTIA, FCC, wireless carriers, broadcasters, and even the Justice Department--agree that there is a need for more wireless spectrum. Where they have disagreed, strongly, over the past several months is where to get that spectrum. The CTIA has lobbied hard to have broadcasters relinquish some of their unused spectrum.

The CTIA said in a statement that "the record overwhelmingly demonstrates there's a need for additional spectrum for mobile broadband services." 

"We continue to believe that all spectrum should be on the table for potential reallocation, including the almost 300 MHz allocated for broadcast television use, which is spectrum most favorable to mobile broadband," CTIA President Steve Largent said in a statement. "We look forward to working with the Commission and the broadband team to consider mechanisms to put spectrum to its highest use."

For more:
- see this Broadcasting & Cable article

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Article updated Jan. 13 with the CTIA's statement.