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FCC Broadband Plan: Commission Sets 2015 Spectrum Deadline

The FCC's broadband plan lays out a clear timetable for broadcasters to clear off 120 mhz of spectrum, or about a third of their over 290 Mhz allocation, which has already been reduced by 108 MHz in the DTV transition, when channels 52-69 were reclaimed.

The FCC wants to issue the band-reclamation order by next year, then hold an auction in the 2012-2013 time frame, and clear them off the band in 2015.

While the plan is voluntary, the FCC also talks about freeing up 36 MHz by repacking the channels, which could come in the form of taking another six channels off the top, as it were, reducing the allocation to 45 channels and relocating the current occupants. Broadcasters would likely not have a choice about moving out of that 46-51 allocation if that were the plan.

The voluntary proposal, in which broadcasters would be compensated for moving, is part of its five-year spectrum plan outlined in Connect America: The National Broadband Plan, a report to Congress being publicly unveiled at the FCC's monthly meeting Tuesday (March 16).

Broadcasters will be encouraged to give up the most spectrum to reach that 300 MHz mark, with mobile satellite services giving up the second-most at 90 MHz.

While the need for broadcast spectrum will be greatest in urban areas, the FCC is looking to make it available nationwide to make it easier on carriers' cost structures.

It is unclear how that will sit with some of the legislators the plan was prepared for.

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), for one, chair of the House Communications Subcommittee, one of the key committees the FCC will need to work with on the plan, said two weeks ago that the FCC should not make any decisions about who to reclaim spectrum from until after conducting a spectrum inventory that Boucher thinks could take up to four years after a bill to that effect he co-sponsored has passed.

But the FCC's advice to Congress is that there is a growing spectrum crisis that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. "If the U.S. does not address this situation promptly," says the plan, "scarcity of mobile broadband could mean higher prices, poor service quality, an inability for the U.S. to compete internationally, depressed demand and, ultimately, a drag on innovation."