FCC considers lifting restrictions to allow broadcast spectrum to be used for broadband

Declaring over-the-air commercial television an “obstacle” to expanding mobile broadband expansion, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said last week the FCC may launch a proceeding on Nov. 30 that will lift technical restrictions on the use of broadcast spectrum for broadband and to allow the use of channel sharing.

These actions, said the chairman, would be “essential groundwork” that will be necessary so the commission can move quickly once Congress passes legislation to allow incentive auctions of broadcast spectrum.

Speaking to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners last week, Genachowski said the current broadcast spectrum allocations “still reflect the previous era” and need to be changed so that the United States can remain economically competitive in the world.

“What happened with broadcast spectrum in the 20th century was a remarkable success,” Genachowski said. “By opening up spectrum for commercial use, we made it possible for entrepreneurs to create a large and successful over-the-air broadcast TV industry that in turn helped create our extraordinarily successful U.S. content industry, bringing real benefits to our economy and beyond.”

“Fast forward to today. Less than 10 percent of us — down from 100 percent — still get our television programming from over-the-air broadcast transmissions. Instead, people watch TV through cable or satellite,” he said. “The world has changed, but our spectrum allocations still reflect the previous era. This presents a real obstacle as we try to ensure a spectrum infrastructure for the new world of mobile broadband.”

Genachowski called on Congress to authorize incentive auctions that will encourage broadcasters to give up all or some of their spectrum by allowing them to share in the proceeds of the auctioning of the spectrum to wireless broadband providers. Such auctions, he said, are “critical” to achieving the FCC’s goal of freeing up 500MHz of spectrum for mobile broadband.

“It has been endorsed by the president and has received bipartisan backing in Congress,” he said. “It’s time to turn that support into law. The sooner incentive auction legislation is adopted, the sooner we can unleash spectrum for mobile broadband, and the sooner we’ll see the benefits to consumers and taxpayers, to our economy and our ability to lead the world in 4G mobile.”