Snowe tells FCC chairman that conducting spectrum inventory is 'fundamental step' to future policy

Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) last week told the chairman of the FCC that she was “disappointed” to learn the agency has not first completed a spectrum inventory before pursuing policy to tap the full potential of the nation’s wireless resource.

In a letter sent Jan. 12 to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Snowe expressed concern about “the apparent overemphasis on incentive auctions” as a means of averting a future spectrum crisis.

“I raise this issue because there have been recent calls for Congress to simply pass legislation that grants the FCC incentive auction authority and nothing more,” she said in the letter. Such a “one-dimensional approach could derail the comprehensive reform required” to meet the needs of spectrum users in the future, she said in the letter.

Since the FCC rolled out its National Broadband Plan, the concept of incentive auctions — by which incumbent spectrum users give up some or all of their spectrum in exchange for a portion of the proceeds of the auction of that spectrum — has been touted by the chairman as the best way to clear wide contiguous swaths of spectrum for future wireless Internet broadband use. In April 2010, Genachowski addressed broadcasters at the 2010 NAB Show to explain that voluntary incentive auctions would be the best way to create a “win-win-win” for consumers, broadcasters and telecom companies seeking to expand wireless Internet service.

In the letter to Genachowski, Snowe, who along with Senator John Kerry (D-MA) introduced legislation more than 18 months ago directing the agency to conduct a spectrum inventory, called the exercise “the fundamental first step” needed to development of a spectrum policy for the country.

“While an inventory of both federal and non-federal spectrum would not answer all of our questions, it would provide decision makers at the FCC, NTIA and Congress a clearer, more detailed and up-to-date understanding of how spectrum is currently being used and by whom — data essential to sound policy decisions and spectrum management,” the letter said.

Snowe told the chairman her disappointment is compounded by Genachowski’s response in July 2010 to the agency’s “apparent inaction regarding an inventory.” In the response, Genachowski said he would “move as expeditiously as possible” to conduct the inventory. “While I appreciate the commission’s effort to improve transparency through the launch of its Spectrum Dashboard, it is not a sufficient substitute to conducting an actual inventory,” the letter said.

The nation needs a comprehensive effort to head off a future spectrum crunch, the letter said. Elements of such an effort should include “spectrum planning, more robust spectrum management, fostering technical innovation and even more fiber optic backhaul investment,” the letter said.

Snowe informed the chairman that she intends to reintroduce comprehensive spectrum legislation in this Congress. “While I share your enthusiasm about the future of wireless, we cannot get distracted from taking the preliminary steps that lay the appropriate groundwork to achieve our shared goals,” the letter said. Achieving those goals does not rely on a single tool, namely incentive auctions, but “an aggregation of multiple tools,” the letter said.

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.