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NAB 2010: Genachowski Emphasizes Spectrum Return Will Be Voluntary

LAS VEGAS: Pushing back against rumors of an impending federal grab against broadcasters’ spectrum, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski made his case Tuesday in a keynote address that the nation needs to accelerate mobile broadband development—and that broadcasters’ contributions will be voluntary and even advantageous.

He pointed to the status and immediate future of wireless broadband: One study showed the United States as 15th in the world for broadband adoption and 18th in speed. Even worse, a 2009 study tagged America as 40th out of 40 countries for “the rate of change of innovative capacity.”

Meanwhile, Web-enabled smartphones demand 30 times the data volume of the phones they replaced. A wireless netbook consumes 450 times more data. All told, he said, we can expect a 40-fold jump in wireless data needs in just the next five years.

“While it’s not the time to panic, it is the time to plan,” he said. “If we wait for the crisis to hit, it will be too late to act without significant cost to our economy and global competitiveness.”

Other nations are moving forward, he said. Germany is set to auction more than 340 MHz, and Japan is making 500 MHz available for mobile broadband. The FCC’s own National Broadband Plan calls for 500 MHz in new spectrum. But the reports of the sacrifices that will be demanded of broadcasters, he said, have been exaggerated, and the Broadband Plan aims to be a win-win-win for broadcasters, mobile Internet providers and the American people.

The spectrum returns, he stressed, would be “voluntary incentive auctions,” giving broadcasters the option of channel sharing, in which they could continue to broadcast their primary streams while lowering operating costs and gaining a capital infusion.

This concept would apply to other spectrum users as well, and even a relatively small number of participating broadcasters would free up significant amounts of bandwidth.
He fought back against what he called “myths” about the plan: It will not diminish voices or squash diversity and localism; it will not prevent the deployment of mobile DTV; and consumers will not have to purchase new equipment.

“This issue won’t go away, because the mobile Web—and the opportunities it provides, and the data demand it will generate—won’t go away,” he said. “And so I call on broadcasters to ignore the hyperbole and focus on the real challenges and the real opportunities.”

In statement released after the speech, NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton called Genachowski’s comments “reassuring” and promised to work with the commission.
Genachowski also said the FCC will convene an “Engineers Forum,” followed by a similar forum with business executives.

“The FCC staff and I have real help that these direct roll-up-your-sleeve sessions will produce progress and good outcomes,” he said. - bySanjay Talwani of Government Video