The FCC’s Incentive Auctions rulemaking docket is titled: “Expanding Economic and Innovation Opportunities of Spectrum…” With an increasing majority of the American TV audience choosing to consume their video programming via wired or wireless broadband, rather than over the air broadcast signals, new spectrum to be voluntarily relinquished by TV broadcasters will become available to the highest bidders in the mobile broadband business, hopefully to boost coverage and capacity. The public safety network and the U.S. Treasury also stand to gain something in the bargain. Not end of story. Spectrum holdings limits currently under consideration by the FCC in a separate parallel proceeding should prevent further concentration in the amount of spectrum controlled by the mobile wireless duopoly, thereby leaving some chance of winning bids by smaller carriers. And some of the available spectrum should not be auctioned or licensed at all.
As FCC Chairman Genachowski noted at last week’s CES in Las Vegas, an innovative spectrum policy 30 years ago eventually “gave us cordless phones, Bluetooth and WiFi” …all valuable developments that could not have been forecast at the time. Future leaps like Gigabit WiFi in the 5 MHz band will require unprecedented collaboration with other agencies, including the Defense Department, which already have rights to use this spectrum for other purposes. This is very desirable, but also hugely ambitious given the military is the 800 lb gorilla in Washington inter-agency politics. By contrast, the FCC Chairman noted, the Commission has already been taking steps to promote next generation unlicensed spectrum in lower frequencies than existing wi-fi which can facilitate outdoor and next door use at greater distances. We applaud and encourage the FCC’s efforts to ensure a significant amount of low-band unlicensed spectrum recovered from TV broadcasters will be available for robust innovative uses including wifi on a consistent, nationwide basis.