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FCC Action Agenda Takes Broadcast Spectrum in 2015

WASHINGTON: The FCC continues to press for its National Broadband Plan with an “action agenda” of more than 60 proceedings, events and steps that include the reallocation of 120 MHz of broadcast spectrum. There was no indication that the full commission voted on the action plan, set forth by FCC chief Julius Genachowski.

“We are putting the National Broadband Plan into action,” Genachowski said in a statement. “The commission’s bureaus and offices have already begun executing on the strategy the National Broadband Plan lays out to connect all Americans to broadband....”

The action plan comprises 64 rulemakings, inquiries and other items considered necessary to set that plan in motion. Some of those proceedings are underway; others would be initiated. Four key goals are stated: to free up 500 MHz of spectrum; promote unlicensed devices; create incentives for spectrum reallocation and improve the transparency of the process.

With regard to spectrum, the FCC wants to take 120 MHz away from broadcast TV and reallocate it for broadband. The agenda lists the correlative Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to be issued in the third quarter of this year and the resulting Order to be completed next year, with auctions schedule for 2012-13, and spectrum handover in 2015.

Concomitant during 3Q10, the FCC would issue its final rules governing unlicensed devices for use in the spectrum between broadcast channels, traditionally left open to prevent interference. The FCC has yet to appoint the manager of a database intended to keep track of unoccupied frequencies across the country.

Another NPRM during the third quarter of this year would establish spectrum sharing “among compatible point-to-point microwave services and greater flexibility in deploying wireless backhaul.”

The FCC Broadband Plan Action Agenda comes just days after a federal court ruled against the commission’s enforcement of a tenant of Network Neutrality. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Tuesday said the FCC lacked the authority to prohibit Comcast from throttling its broadband traffic.

The case arose from a 2007 incident in which Comcast was discovered limiting the bandwidth on BitTorrent users. The cable operator claimed it had the right to manage its own network and clamp down on bandwidth hogs. The FCC disagreed and imposed an open-access requirement on Comcast. The court went with Comcast. Genachowski said never, never mind.

“The court decision earlier this week does not change our broadband policy goals, or the ultimate authority of the FCC to act to achieve those goals,” he said in the statement. “The court did not question the FCC’s goals; it merely invalidated one technical, legal mechanism for broadband policy chosen by prior commissions.”

The technicality is related to the classification of broadband services under communications law. Broadband is considered a Title 1 interstate communications service, versus a more rigorously regulated Title 2 common carrier service. Dave Carney, publisher of the Tech Law Journal, noted that there is no mention of reclassifying broadband as a Title 2 service in the FCC’s action plan.

Full details of the Broadband Action Agenda are available at the FCC’s National Broadband Plan Web site.
-- Deborah D. McAdams
April 6, 2010
: Comcast Strikes a Blow Against Net Neutrality
A federal court today said the FCC did not have the authority to regulate network management. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled 3-0 in favor of Comcast’s challenge of an FCC order prohibiting it from blocking high bitrate traffic.