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Commerce: Reclaiming Broadcast Spectrum Is 'Vital'

The Commerce Department put in a pitch for reclaiming spectrum for wireless broadband in a new competitiveness report, saying definitively that it did not think more effective use of spectrum can get the job done.

Commerce, which is the administration's chief telecom policy advisor among many other things, told Congress in the report that "techniques such as improvements in spectrum efficiency, increases in network density through cell site construction, and offloading traffic to wired networks will not be sufficient to allow capacity to keep up with demand," though it added that being more efficient with spectrum "can" be part of the solution.

That came in the broadband portion of a report to Congress on "The Competitiveness and Innovative Capacity of the United States."

In other words, the report said, wireless carriers won't be able to handle demand unless they have access to "additional parts of the spectrum." It called "vital" the FCC's planned reallocation of broadcast spectrum -- currently awaiting congressional approval of the ability to pay broadcasters to exit -- and indicated it would be transferring the spectrum to "more efficient use."

Broadcasters have been arguing that, to the degree more spectrum is needed, the government should first look at what broadcasters argue has been warehousing of spectrum by cable companies and others. According to a report in Communications Daily, Comcast CFO Michael Angelakis at a Citigroup investor conference Thursday (Jan. 5) told his audience that Comcast never planned to build out the advanced wireless spectrum it acquired in an FCC auction as part of SpectrumCo, a cable consortium that bought 122 licenses in October 2006. SpectrumCo paid $2.37 billion and agreed to sell them to Verizon for $3.6 billion, subject to FCC approval.

A Comcast spokesperson confirmed that Angelakis had made the statement, but said that it was essentially shorthand for saying that: "after examining many possibilities and opportunities and working hard to clear the spectrum of incumbent users -- and spending millions of dollars to do so --  and with the changes in the market like the iPhone, iPad, explosion in smartphone usage; it didn't make sense to build out as a nationwide network."

In an interview with B&C/Multi, former FCC broadband czar Blair Levin, who helped come up with the proposal to reclaim broadcast spectrum, said that unless Congress clarifies and simplifies its spectrum incentive auction legislation, it might not succeed in freeing up the spectrum for wireless or generating the expected billions for the treasury and an interoperable emergency communications network.

He argues that language that would require the FCC to make all reasonable efforts to preserve coverage areas for broadcasters remaining on their spectrum could prove a litigious thicket from which the auctions could not escape unscathed.

Commerce also put in a plug for its administration of $4 billion in broadband stimulus money under the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), which it said "has been successful in extending broadband to underserved communities."