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FCC Chairman: Getting More Spectrum Crucial To Mobile Broadband

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowksi Wednesday outlined what he called his new "MBA at the FCC": a Mobile Broadband Agenda, for an industry he says could be the key supplier of broadband going forward.

That plan will include reallocating spectrum from other users, and applying network neutrality standards to wireless broadband, though likely with a different standard for network management from that applied to wired networks.

Its four principals include three carrots to the industry and one stick. The carrots include freeing up spectrum, including reallocating it from current users; "removing obstacles" to deployment of 4G broadband; spurring competition; and (the stick): open internet principles, though the chairman said they would take into account differences between wired and wireless broadband.

"These are the goals on which I look forward to working with the wireless industry and all stakeholders in the period ahead," he said.

That plan is according to a copy of the chairman's prepared remarks to the wireless industry in a speech at a CTIA conference in San Diego.

Number one on the list was freeing up spectrum. He said that while new technologies and policies have increased spectrum efficiency, and auctions have made more available, that will still not be enough.

"As this audience knows, it takes years to reallocate spectrum and put it to use. And there are no easy pickings on the spectrum chart," he said. "But we have no choice. We must identify spectrum that can best be reinvested in mobile broadband. That is something that we have to work on together, across industries, and in partnership with all stakeholders."

On the issue of removing obstacles to 4G deployment, Genachowski was preaching to the choir when he said the FCC would propose a shot-clock to speed the citing of new towers, pointing out that CTIA had proposed the move.

On the issue of network neutrality and his proposal two weeks ago to apply Internet openness guidelines to wireless broadband, the chairman argued that "fair rules of the road for an open Internet" would be a plus, preserving innovation and investment.

The wireless industry's major players expressed their doubts about that in initial reactions to the proposal.

He said that Internet openness would be key to mobile broadband. He reiterated that he believes mobile is the future of broadband. "More and more I hear people say that broadband is the future of mobile, and I agree. I also believe the reverse is true -- mobile is essential to the future of broadband."

He said his network neutrality proposal is meant to clear up confusion over "whether we do or don't have Internet openness protections."

The goal, he said, "will be to develop sensible rules of the road. Rules clear enough to provide predictability and certainty, and flexible enough to anticipate and welcome ongoing technological evolution."

What the aim is not, he said, is "heavy-handed and prescriptive regulation. Our goal is to empower innovators, not lawyers," said the Harvard lawyer.

He said there would likely be different standards for reasonable network management for wired and wireless broadband. "Mobile poses unique congestion issues, for example. Managing a wireless network isn't the same as managing a fiber network, and what constitutes reasonable network management will appropriately reflect that difference."

The wireless industry has pointed out that there could be issue of unexpected traffic on a single-cell site, say near a major concert venue, that is not shared by a wired platform.

"I also recognize that the wireless industry has its own market structure and competitive landscape which of course we'll analyze in our proceeding. And I understand how well-intended government action can lead to unintended consequences," he said.

"There shouldn't be any confusion. I believe firmly in the need for the FCC to preserve Internet openness, whether a person accesses the Internet from a desktop computer or a wireless laptop or netbook. I also believe the question of how we accomplish that goal, particularly in the wireless context, poses some difficult questions -- questions that remain open and will be considered in the FCC's proceeding."