Wireless association chief objects to Onyeije report conclusions, backs incentive auctions

The head of the Wireless Communications Association International, a Washington, D.C.-based wireless industry lobby, objects to the conclusions of a new study from Onyeije Consulting that finds there are various solutions to what the FCC describes as the looming “spectrum crunch” for wireless broadband service other than allocating more spectrum.

Fred Campbell, president and CEO of the association, says the report, submitted to the FCC April 25 by the NAB, misses the mark because the technologies it identifies as holding the key to alleviating the problem “already have been contemplated” and won’t do enough to relieve the crunch.

“We need every toolkit in the arsenal in order to meet the demands for mobile data,” Campbell says. “So I think that includes those technologies, but I also think it includes more spectrum. I just don’t think there is any way around that at this point.”

The Onyeije Consulting report, authored by former FCC official Uzoma Onyeije, suggests a number of steps the wireless industry can take, such as transitioning voice traffic to Internet Protocol and taking advantage of femtocells and WiFi, as well as actions at the FCC’s disposal to deal with the wireless industry’s capacity crunch.

The report comes as the FCC contemplates unprecedented rule changes affecting television broadcasters, such as allowing competitive stations to share the same 6MHz TV channel, and seeks authority from Congress to conduct voluntary incentive auctions to pay broadcasters to relinquish some or all of their frequency allocation to create a pool of 120MHz of spectrum to be auctioned to wireless carriers.

The members of his association back the concept of voluntary incentive auctions for broadcasters to give them an incentive to vacate spectrum, Campbell says. However, if the auctions truly are voluntary, it may be difficult for the FCC to conduct them, Campbell says.

“The potential for holdouts is always a problem,” he says. “I think the entire point of doing an incentive auction is to prevent a holdout situation.”

If there aren’t enough takers to volunteer for the deal, the agency has a couple of other options at its disposal, he says.

“One of them is to just take it, which the government has full authority to do, and just say, ‘We have a better use for this. We are not renewing any of your licenses,’” Campbell says.

Another is to give broadcasters “full secondary rights over their spectrum” so they could in theory lease it to wireless companies.

“Secondary markets usually take time,” Campbell says. “There are transaction costs involved, and there is always the potential for the holdout.”

Campbell says he is hopeful freeing broadcast spectrum won’t require either option.

“What I am trying to say is the FCC is actually contemplating doing the broadcasters a favor, which is transitioning them to new spectrum but giving them a profit,” he says.

“This would actually be a first. So from a historical and legal perspective, incentive auctions are actually way better than what they’ve done in the past.”

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.