FCC Preliminary Approval For Spectrum Auctions
September 29, 2012

Wireless Spectrum Auctions Earn Preliminary FCC Approval

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has approved new rules governing the auctioning of wireless spectrum in a move that could free up more airwaves for wireless broadband.

According to Amy Schatz of the Wall Street Journal, the regulatory committee is preparing to auction off television airwaves surrendered by station owners in 2014, and is also reportedly considering placing caps on the total amount of spectrum that wireless carriers can possess.

The FCC voted 5-0 in favor of what they are calling incentive auctions, in which some of the proceeds would be given to the broadcasters that surrender licenses to unused airwaves, explained Edward Wyatt of the New York Times. The rules will now be made available for public comment over the next several months before being finalized, he added.

"The FCC and Congress have estimated that the incentive auction process could generate $15 billion, $7 billion of which would be used to build a nationwide emergency communications network for public safety officials," Wyatt said. "The process of reclaiming and auctioning spectrum that is controlled by broadcasters is a major initiative of both the Obama administration and the FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski."

"The idea of paying television broadcasters to give up airwaves for use in wireless networks was written into law in February through the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act," he added. "The FCC and the White House have been promoting the idea that additional airwaves are needed for commercial use because of the rapid growth in smartphones, tablet computers and other devices whose use of video and other applications places heavy demand on wireless networks."

The commission has predicted that total US mobile broadband traffic could increase as much as 35-times its current level over the next three years, the Times reported on Friday, and unless additional spectrum is made available, severe connection issues and slower data transfer speeds are expected.

Under the new regulations, the FCC will first buy back spectrum from television broadcasters willing to part with it, CNET's Marguerite Reardon said. Then they will re-allocate the remaining TV-owned airwaves in order to create blocks of spectrum sizable enough for wireless operators to bid on.

"The two Republican commissioners expressed concern over how much unlicensed spectrum was being set aside," Reardon said. "And they also worried whether the auction proceeds would cover the cost of the process while also satisfying a congressional directive to use the money to pay for a new public safety wireless broadband network."

Earlier this week, the FCC unanimously approved a plan that would allow the unused spectrum between TV channels to be used for advanced wireless broadband services superior to today's Wi-Fi technology.

These unused airwaves, known as "white spaces," became available following 2009's shift to digital broadcasting. The FCC hopes to use them for so-called "super Wi-Fi" services, which could further help ease the expected strain on the nation's increasingly populated airwaves.

According to Genachowski, it was the first significant release of unlicensed spectrum in 25 years.

"This new unlicensed spectrum will be a powerful platform for innovation. As we´ve seen time and time again, when we unleash American ingenuity, great things happen," the FCC chairman said.

"By opening this broadcast spectrum for Internet use, the commission is helping to unleash a whole new class of mobile wireless broadband services with applications that are nearly limitless," added Dell Chairman and Chief Executive Michael Dell.