FCC chairman lays out steps to free spectrum for wireless broadband at 2011 CES

Speaking at the 2011 International CES in Las Vegas Jan. 7, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski thanked the consumer electronics and computer industries for continued support of his agency’s National Broadband Plan and pledged that “a central priority” of the commission in 2011 will be “unleashing spectrum” to meet anticipated future wireless Internet demand.

Saying that spectrum policy in the United States is outdated and reflects “the communication needs of the 20th century, not the 21st,” the chairman of the nation’s communications regulatory agency laid out the “four pillars” upon which the National Broadband Plan rests.

First is making more broadband spectrum available, Genachowski said. Getting rid of existing regulation has let the agency free up 25MHz previously set aside for wireless communications services and will allow the FCC to make available an additional 90MHz of mobile satellite spectrum. The FCC also is working with other federal agencies to free up additional spectrum currently used by the government, he added.

Second, the agency must encourage “innovative and efficient” spectrum use, he said. Among the areas the FCC will encourage are dynamic spectrum sharing and secondary spectrum markets, development of femtocells, smart antenna technology and devices to use unlicensed spectrum like WiFi to offload cellular traffic, he said. Genachowski also pointed to the opening of TV white spaces to use by unlicensed devices as a success, which he said will lead to development of innovations like Super WiFi.

The third pillar in Genachowski’s view is empowering consumers and entrepreneurs “by driving widespread adoption of mobile broadband” as well as promoting competition and innovation. He added that mobile broadband will be “an important part of our work around broadband adoption and digital literacy.”

Fourth is spurring development of the wireless infrastructure, Genachowski said. The agency is removing obstacles that have slowed progress, he said, and established policies like “the shot clock to speed the deployment of new cell towers.” The commission is looking to cut red tape and promote policies “to speed network deployment and ensure investment dollars go to building and upgrading networks, not the inefficiencies of the process,” he said.

During his remarks, Genachowski also discussed the critical role voluntary incentive auctions will play in meeting the agency’s goal of freeing 500MHz of spectrum for broadband use. The incentive auction, which would share the proceeds of an auction with incumbent spectrum users, can “unlock substantial value that’s now untapped because of outdated policies,” he said.

When applied to TV broadcasting, stations could elect to participate by contributing their 6MHz channel and sharing a channel with one or more stations, he said. “Keep in mind that while about 300MHz of prime spectrum is set aside for TV broadcasting across the country, the percentage of viewers who watch broadcasting over the air — that is, who use that spectrum to watch TV instead of watching broadcast programming through cable or satellite — has declined from 100 percent to under 10 percent,” he said.

Genachowski added that by next year’s CES, he hopes the agency will be “far along in implementing” its incentive auction initiative.

Phil Kurz

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.