Obama budget foreshadows spectrum auctions

President Obama's new budget for fiscal 2011 anticipates the FCC will raise $1.6 billion through spectrum auctions through 2020. The budget proposal, like last year, also seeks to give the FCC new authority to establish fees on unauctioned spectrum, which could generate another $4.8 billion.

The administration, which has made net neutrality a centerpiece of its technology policy, seemed to underscore the importance of wireless broadband going forward. In addition to the details about spectrum fees, the proposal seeks to make permanent the FCC's power to auction off spectrum licenses. The FCC's existing authority to auction spectrum is set to expire Sept. 30, 2012.

"This proposal supports the administration's efforts to foster new wireless broadband technologies by making new spectrum available," the budget proposal stated. Obama's budget must be approved by Congress.

Interestingly, the revenue anticipated from future auctions pales in comparison with the FCC's 700 MHz spectrum, completed in 2008, that raised close to $20 billion--a reflection of the relative dearth of unused spectrum.

Obama's new proposal comes as the FCC hashes out the final details of its national broadband plan, which it is expected to deliver to Congress next month (one month later than originally anticipated). As part of the plan, the FCC is looking for ways to increase spectrum for wireless broadband services. Throughout the process of developing the plan, the CTIA has argued tirelessly for the wireless industry to receive additional licensed spectrum. Recently, the commission backed away from a plan that required broadcasters to give up some of their spectrum holdings for wireless broadband use.

However, the FCC took care to note yesterday that it still felt a spectrum shortage was an urgent priority that needed to be addressed. Phil Bellaria, the director of scenario planning for the FCC's broadband task force, wrote in an FCC blog post that the unveiling of Apple's iPad tablet rekindled worries that wireless networks would soon become overloaded.

"With the iPad pointing to even greater demand for mobile broadband on the horizon, we must ensure that network congestion doesn't choke off a service that consumers clearly find so appealing or frustrate mobile broadband's ability to keep us competitive in the global broadband economy," he wrote.

For more:
- see this Reuters article
- see this Broadcasting & Cable article
- see this FCC blog post

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