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FCC Commissioner McDowell Pitches Unlicensed Spectrum Use

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell pitched using a combination of already allocated unlicensed-use spectrum in the TV band - the so-called "white spaces" - with better spectrum management by cellular companies as a way to address the current spectrum needs of all those new smartphones and tablets.

That came in a speech to the Global Forum in Brussels Monday, according to a copy of his speech.

"We should work together to encourage wireless providers to deploy enhanced antenna systems more aggressively and provide targeted consumer education on the benefits of using femtocells, both of which are ready off-the-shelf," said McDowell.

But he does not support setting aside a large continuous swath of unlicensed spectrum - as some computer companies have been advocating - as part of the current push to consolidate broadcasters and reclaim their spectrum for wireless auctions. "At this early stage, it is not apparent that we should stop the progress well under way in the white spaces arena to create a solution for a problem - an alleged shortage of unlicensed spectrum in the 700 MHz Band -- that may never exist." And then there is the budget issue.

"Given today's unprecedented budget deficits, I question whether the U.S. can afford not to auction any and all spectrum recovered in this band," he said.

McDowell pointed out that even if the government started now to reclaim and auction spectrum, it would take a decade for the new capacity to start delivering that capacity for wireless companies.  

In the meantime, he suggested, government should press wireless companies to do more with what they have. "Consumers reap the greatest benefits when public policy aims to bring more spectrum to market while also promoting spectral efficiency," he said.

Broadcasters have been arguing that too much attention has been put on taking back broadcaster spectrum and not enough on figuring out how much there is, who has it, how efficiently it is being used, whether it is being hoarded for business reasons - increased demand means increased prices for those who might want to sell it.