FCC Proposing TV Spectrum Auction

The FCC plans to give broadcasters a chance to turn in their
spectrum in exchange for an auction pay-off.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said Wednesday that, as part of the national
broadband plan, the FCC will propose a voluntary "Mobile Future
Auction" that will permit TV broadcasters and other licensees to give up
spectrum in exchange for a share of the proceeds.

That came in a speech to the New America Foundation Wednesday as the FCC
continues to unveil various portions of the broadband plan, due to Congress
March 17.

"The Mobile Future Auction would allow broadcasters to elect to
participate in a mechanism that could save costs for broadcasters while also
being a major part of the solution to one of our country's most significant

The FCC has been talking about a market-based incentive to get some
broadcasters--he said specifically ones in "spectrum-starved markets"
to give up their spectrum for wireless reallocation.

Inan interview with B&C last month, Phil Bellaria, the FCC's lead staffer
on the commission's spectrum reclamation plan, said that the broadband plan
anticipated paying broadcasters to clear the spectrum on a voluntary basis,
with a recommendation to the Hill as part of the plan, since Congress would
have to approve any compensation.

Calling it part of an ambitious but straightforward plan, and saying wireless
broadband was a "core goal" of the national broadband plan, FCC
Chairman Julius Genachowski said Wednesday that the FCC will "accelerate
the broad deployment of mobile broadband by moving to recover and reallocate

He said that while the possibilities of mobile broadband are limitless,
"its oxygen supply is not...Spectrum - our airwaves - really is the oxygen
of mobile broadband service. Without sufficient spectrum, we will starve mobile
broadband of the nourishment it needs to thrive as a platform for innovation,
job creation and economic growth."

"Why look at broadcast spectrum as a major part of our spectrum strategic
planning?," he asked, then proceeded to count the ways.

He said that analysts, companies and trade associations (he did not say which
associations) "agree that a clear candidate for allocation is spectrum in
the broadcast TV bands."

He cited a $50 billion figure that has been offered up for the value of
broadcast spectrum that could be "unlocked," saying that suggested
"inefficiencies" in the current broadcast allocation.

The National Association of Broadcasters has been arguing that broadcasters
have already given up spectrum in the DTV transition, and need what they have
left to deliver the kind of services, HD, multicast channels, and mobile, that
will allow the industry to compete in a multiplatform world.

Genachowski disagreed. "The highly valuable spectrum currently allocated
for allocated for broadcast television is not being used efficiently - indeed,
much is not being used at all. About 300 megahertz of spectrum have been set
aside for broadcast TV. In markets with less than 1 million people, only 36
megahertz are typically used for broadcasting. In cities with more than 1
million people, on average about 100 megahertz are used. Even in our very
largest cities, at most only about 150 megahertz out of 300 megahertz are

He said that was still the case even after the DTV-related freeing up of

"New technologies allow - indeed, they require - new strategic planning to
ensure the most efficient use of spectrum, a vital public resource, especially
given our broadband needs."

He said the auction and the voluntary give-back would be a win-win.
Broadcasters, he said, "[W]in more flexibility to pursue business models
to serve their local communities," while "the public "wins more
innovation in mobile broadband services, continued free, over-the-air
television, and the benefits of the proceeds of new and substantial auction

He should added a third winner, the wireless industry. "By proposing to
free up 500 MHz of new spectrum for mobile broadband use, Chairman Genachowski
has taken a tremendous step toward maintaining our worldwide mobile ecosystem
leadership," said CTIA: The Wireless Industry, in a statement. "His
recognition of the importance of reducing red tape and barriers to investment
is also critical for the continued success of the wireless industry."

"As a one-to-many transmission medium, broadcasters are ready to make the
case that we are far and away the most efficient users of spectrum in today's
communications marketplace," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton in a
statement. "We look forward to working with policymakers to help expand
the roll-out of broadband without threatening the future of free and local
television, mindful of the fact that local TV stations just returned more than
a quarter of our spectrum following our transition to digital."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.