FCC Chair Touts 'All of the Above' Spectrum Plan

In remarks at CTIA, Julius Genachowski announces new federal spectrum-sharing initiative, signals agency plans to begin work on incentive auctions later this year.

NEW ORLEANS -- The head of the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday outlined an "all-of-the-above" strategy for promoting mobile broadband, touting an array of initiatives underway at the agency to free up more spectrum and use it more efficiently, and to broaden access to high-speed wireless service.

In a keynote address here at CTIA's Wireless 2012 show, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski reiterated the call for shifting more segments of spectrum to wireless carriers to bolster their voice and data networks to manage the proliferating volume of traffic from smartphones and tablets.

"We won't seize the opportunities before us if we don't tackle this capacity challenge," Genachowski says. "The kinds of challenges we have in mobile are the kind we want -- challenges stemming from growing mobile demand."

He added, "I'm sure no one will disagree -- better these challenges than the opposite. Better these challenges than shrinking demand."

New Spectrum-Sharing Program

Much of the FCC's work in the spectrum area has focused on plans to reallocate commercial licenses, but Genachowski noted that opening government holdings to private-sector use is an important piece of the puzzle.

This morning he announced a new spectrum-sharing program through which the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the division of the Commerce Department that oversees government spectrum, will begin a review of government-controlled airwaves with an eye toward enabling commercial usage of the 1755 MHz to 1780 MHz LTE band. Paired with a segment in the 2155 MHz to 2180 MHz range, the initiative would aim to bring 50 MHz of paired spectrum to auction within three years, Genachowski says, touting it as an example of the creative proposals that will need to emerge in order to address the supply-demand imbalance that has attended the mobile data crush.

"We know that it's becoming increasingly hard to ... clear blocks of spectrum and reallocate them from government to commercial. Where we can, of course, we must, and we will. But when thinking about government spectrum it would be counterproductive to limit us to just two choices: complete reallocation or nothing," he says.

Genachowski has been an outspoken advocate for policies to advance mobile broadband since taking office in 2009. Early on in his tenure, the agency produced a national broadband plan that set the ambitious goal of moving 300 MHz of spectrum to wireless broadband by 2015, and another 200 MHz by 2020.

"These were intentionally audacious goals," he says.

Advocates of spectrum reform recently won a significant victory with the enactment of legislation authorizing the FCC to conduct so-called incentive auctions, through which television broadcasters would be invited to relinquish their spectrum licenses in exchange for a portion of the revenue generated through their resale to wireless carriers.

"The next step is to put the new law to work," Genachowski said, announcing that the agency plans to begin the complex process of drafting rules for the auctions in the fall. "How much spectrum the incentive auctions will ultimately free up will depend on rigorous and fact-based analysis of economics and engineering issues."

Beyond the major incentive auction initiative, Genachowski stressed the need for broad-ranging efforts to drive incremental spectrum enhancements. The FCC, for instance, has been advancing proposals to reallocate portions of the airwaves from satellite to terrestrial use. The agency is also spearheading the deployment of the unused slivers of broadcast spectrum known as white spaces for wireless broadband, calling it "the most significant release of spectrum for unlicensed use in 25 years."

Those efforts are supported by the FCC's recent move to divert revenue under the Universal Service Fund that it administers to a mobility fund designed to make wireless service available to rural and low-income Americans.

Genachowski similarly urged companies in the wireless industry to explore technologies that can wring more use out of the finite amount of available spectrum, such as small cells, efficient receivers and spectrum sharing.

The chairman also took a moment to riff on the recent confirmation of two new commissioners, Jessica Rosenworcel and Ajit Pai, whose nominations had been held up in the Senate for months owing to one member's concerns about the agency's review of LightSquared, a startup with political connections that had sought to build a nationwide wireless network.

"I'm not saying their confirmation is overdue, but they were nominated by President Truman," Genachowski said.

Kenneth Corbin is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who covers government and regulatory issues for CIO.com.

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