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Genachowski addresses ‘misimpressions’ regarding FCC spectrum plans, incentive auctions

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski addressed March 16 what he labeled “misimpressions” regarding the nation’s need for additional spectrum to meet future wireless broadband Internet demand and the incentive auction mechanism that aims to recoup it.

Speaking at the Mobile Future Forum in Washington, D.C., Genachowski said “some who want to preserve the status quo” are responsible for floating four specific misconceptions regarding the agency’s effort ultimately to free 500MHz of spectrum, 120MHz of which is part of today’s DTV band.

Genachowski took issue with those who claim “the spectrum crunch is greatly exaggerated” and that no crunch is coming. Naysayers suggest that “large blocks of spectrum (are) just lying around.” They also say some cable and wireless companies “are just sitting on top of, or ‘hoarding,’ unused spectrum,” Genachowski said.

Citing “multiple expert sources,” the chairman said this is not true. According to these experts, by 2014 mobile broadband demand and the spectrum required will be 35 times the level in 2009. Quoting Cisco, Genachowski said demand would increase about 60 times between 2009 and 2015, and added that spectrum coming online for mobile broadband is less than a 3 times increase in capacity.

As to hoarding, Genachowski said, “It is not hoarding if a company paid millions or billions of dollars for spectrum at auction and is complying with the FCC’s build-out rules,” and there is no evidence of noncompliance.

Genachowski also took aim at those who want to delay FCC incentive auctions to recoup spectrum until after the completion of a spectrum inventory.

“The good news is that we have already completed a baseline spectrum inventory that tells us more than enough to conclude that incentive auctions are an essential item to add to the FCC’s tool kit,” he said.

The chairman also addressed those who favor allowing broadcasters to sublease their spectrum rather than conducting incentive auctions. According to Genachowski, this approach is unsuitable because it would not vacate “contiguous blocks of spectrum over broad geographic areas,” which is what is necessary for mobile broadband.

Finally, Genachowski acknowledged the fear of some broadcasters about repacking the band. The chairman said the FCC plan will seek to minimize the number of TV stations impacted and “calls for fully reimbursing broadcasters’ costs for such moves.” The commission also “would propose that stations not be forced to move from the UHF band to the VHF band,” he said.

Saying that it takes years “to auction, clear and build out spectrum,” Genachowski expressed the urgency of the issue. “If we don’t act, we won’t have enough spectrum for mobile broadband. That will have real consequences for consumers, who will face declining service, including dropped calls and Internet connections, slow downloads and high prices,” he said.

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.