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A Full Accounting

Maybe FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski thinks time is not on his side—at least when it comes to the commission's national broadband plan.

Why else would the chairman be racheting up the hyperbole to support his contention that a scarcity of spectrum that could be used for wireless services will soon become a "national crisis"? Last month at CES, he repeated his contention that releasing more mobile spectrum would be the commission's "top priority" for this year. "The consumer electronics industry is going wireless.... We need to free up more spectrum," he told CEA President Gary Shapiro.

But is it really a crisis? Is it true that "demand for spectrum will soon outstrip supply," as he declared at CES?

Maybe not. According to, some within the commission believe that the crisis has been manufactured and that it need not be a priority while major telecom giants such as AT&T and Verizon sit on large chunks of unused spectrum. "There was a big push to manufacture a spectrum crisis," reported, quoting an anonymous source in the commission. "It's a lie that's being perpetuated to the uncertain benefit of a few and definite detriment of the rest."

Now comes word that Time Warner, the nation's second largest cable operator, has no plans to use its wireless spectrum, according to Communications Daily. If large cable operators are allowed "spectrum speculation," why the rush to reclaim broadcast? NAB, for one, wants to know.

"Time Warner Cable is engaged in warehousing of spectrum that could be deployed to help build out wireless Internet service to unserved markets," NAB President Gordon Smith told Congress last month. "This surprising admission from the Time Warner Cable chief operating officer comes at a time when other press reports have indicated that wireless car-riers are sitting on as much as $15 billion in spectrum that has yet to be deployed."

We're not going to reiterate why we believe broadcast is a more efficient use of the spectrum that is already being used. And we're not going to repeat the arguments opponents use to justify the return of that spectrum—those positions are already well known.

Regardless of the arguments, it's the ultimate responsibility of the FCC—the guardians of this spectrum—to give a full accounting of its use before any major transactions occur that could result in the loss of free public access. Last month, Sen. Olympic Snowe, the Republican Senator from Maine, told the FCC chairman that "while an inventory of both federal and non-federal spectrum would not answer all of our questions, it would provide decision makers at the FCC, NTIA and Congress a clearer, more detailed and up-to-date understanding of how spectrum is currently being used and by whom—data essential to sound policy decisions and spectrum management."

We couldn't agree more.