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FCC Proposes Steps To Open TV Spectrum To Wireless

December 1, 2010

US telecom regulators have made recommendations for freeing up more airwave space for wireless services to meet the ever-expanding use of handheld devices.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Tuesday unanimously voted to seek out public comment on the agency’s proposals that would include the use of at least some broadcast television airwaves for wireless device usage.

“The explosive growth of mobile communications threatens to outpace the infrastructure on which it relies,” Julius Genachowski, chairman of the FCC, said during an open meeting.

The FCC wants to entice broadcasters to dole out some of their airwaves to wireless carriers so that consumers can have better data downloads on their smartphones and other wireless gadgets.

The FCC was expected late Tuesday to release its plans to act on touchy Internet traffic rules this year, with the release of its agenda for its Dec 21 meeting.

The airwave changes proposed by the FCC have been less than controversial. But they still rely on broadcasters and their affiliates to voluntarily give up airspace. Lawmakers would also have to give the FCC the authority to conduct airwave auctions in which part of any proceeds would be shared with broadcasters.

The proposed rule changes would help the FCC in its plan to set aside 120 megahertz of spectrum from television stations for mobile broadband. The Obama administration had endorsed making 500 megahertz of spectrum available for mobile broadband usage.

“Our goal is to be ready to move quickly in the event that Congress authorizes incentive auctions,” said Genachowski.

The National Association of Broadcasters told Reuters it did not oppose “truly voluntary” incentive auctions, but has taken issue with spectrum fees outlined in the FCC’s national broadband plan that it believes could force broadcasters to relinquish their licenses which could threaten the transmission of free, local television.

Jeffrey Silva, an analyst with Medley Global Advisors, said some broadcasters’ reluctance to turn over underutilized spectrum could simply be a negotiating tactic. “They’re going to hold out and try for the best deal on what they would be compensated,” Silva told Reuters in a telephone interview.

He also said some lawmakers may be reluctant to authorize the auctions if they are perceived to apply undue pressure to broadcasters in their districts.

“Congress may find itself feeling a little bit conflicted,” said Silva, noting the strength of the broadcast lobby.

Broadband companies and Internet content providers are keenly awaiting the FCC’s action on net neutrality rules, which is expected to arise during its December meeting.

The rules would determine whether high-speed Internet providers like Comcast and Time Warner Cable should be allowed to block or slow traffic, or charge for a “fast lane” to reach users more quickly.

Broadband providers say they should be able to manage their own networks but some public interest groups and content providers argue that all Internet users should have equal rights when it comes to high-speed Internet access.

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