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Wireless Market Threatens US Airwaves Spectrum

January 7, 2011

The nation’s top communications regulator said that a booming wireless market threatens to overload U.S. airwaves if the government fails to act swiftly.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski warned that if network congestion continues to grow, “consumer frustration will grow with it.”

“We’re in the early stages of a mobile revolution that is sparking an explosion in wireless traffic. Without action, demand for spectrum will soon outstrip supply,” Genachowski said in remarks prepared for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Wireless companies have been lobbying for help to deal with a shrinking spectrum as more consumers turn to mobile devices to surf the Web.

The Obama administration in June endorsed making 500 megahertz of spectrum available over the next 10 years to meet the growing demand for wireless services on laptops and smartphones.

The FCC and the Commerce Department have been working together to locate unused spectrum.

Last month, the Commerce Department identified 115 megahertz of spectrum that could be reallocated to wireless broadband, and the FCC hopes to repurpose 120 megahertz of spectrum from television stations through voluntary incentive auctions.

Genachowski reiterated the need for incentive auctions, where televisions broadcasters like CBS Corp. would voluntarily give up spectrum in exchange for a portion of the proceeds from the auction of the airwaves.

Under the FCC’s proposal, lawmakers would have to give the agency the authority to conduct the auctions and divert some of the revenue from the U.S. Treasury.

Genachowski is urging lawmakers to swiftly pass legislation to allow the FCC to move forward with the auctions.

“Incentive auctions would be a big win for our country,” Genachowski said during the CES event, adding that the auctions would help reduce the deficit while freeing up more airwaves for mobile broadband.

If efficiency does not improve in the nation’s spectrum, then consumers will be forced to contend with clogged networks, more dropped calls and slower connection speeds on wireless devices.

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