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FCC Hopes TV Airwave Auction Will Ease Wireless Logjam

April 13, 2011

An impending spectrum crisis in the mobile broadband sector means some TV air signals will need to be redistributed to meet the demand, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is seeking Congressional approval for holding incentive auctions to help compensate TV broadcasters for handing over some of their spectrum to wireless companies.

“I believe the single most important step that will drive our mobile economy and address consumer frustration is authorizing voluntary incentive auctions,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski told broadcasters at their annual convention in Las Vegas.

But broadcasters have been reluctant to agree, worried that parting with their airwaves could have unintended consequences for signals and the viewers they serve.

“We’re talking about putting the whole system at risk,” Alan Frank, chief executive of Post-Newsweek Stations Inc, said earlier in the week at the conference.

Frank said doling out large blocks of the TV spectrum could increase interference and lower the signal strength of broadcasters not parting with the spectrum.

“We need to start defining not how the auction works, but what this is going to mean for the broadcasters who don’t participate in the auction,” he said.

Genachowski, acknowledging the concerns of broadcasters, said he would work closely with them to put the policy into effect in a way that would benefit both them and the economy. He made it clear, however, that while the agency is working out several possibilities to solve the spectrum woes, voluntary incentive auctions were necessary to meet the demand.

Smartphones and tablet computers are increasing the demand for more spectrum as 25 million Americans get their video intake from mobile devices like Apple’s iPad, which puts 120 times more demand on spectrum than older phones.

“This growing demand is not going away. The result is a spectrum crunch,” Genachowski told Reuters. “The only thing that can address the growing overall demand for mobile is increasing the overall supply of spectrum and the efficiency of its use.”

Wireless carriers, lobbying for help, said a spectrum shortfall would mean clogged networks, increased dropped calls and slower connection speeds for their mobile customers.

To partly help in easing the impending spectrum shortage, AT&T announced last month a $39-million plan to buy out T-Mobile USA.

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) said they would oppose the auctions if they appear to harm broadcasters who wish to not part with their spectrum or seem to harm viewers.

Some 43 million Americans rely exclusively on over-the-air television.

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