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Genachowski: UnderusedBroadcast Spectrum Needs to Be Repurposed

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski says that broadcasters who are not making "effective use of the capabilities of their spectrum" should have it put to a "higher use for other purposes."

That is according to the advance text of a speech scheduled for delivery at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

The chairman did not say what did or did not constitute effective use, though fellow Democratic commissioner Michael Copps has suggested broadcasters have not been making full or best use of their digital subchannels. But the
chairman made it clear that the higher and better use he was talking about was giving it up for mobile wireless broadband.

"While American ingenuity and our appetite for wireless technology is limitless," he preached to the choir of tech execs, "Spectrum is not. And the coming spectrum crunch threatens American leadership in mobile and the benefits it can deliver to our economy and our lives."

Part of the speech was devoted to a pitch for legislation authorizing incentive auctions, through which the FCC would encourage broadcasters and others to give up spectrum in exchange for a cut of the proceeds from the ensuing auction. Genachowski praised CEA for a letter to the new Congress this week calling for swift action on incentive auctions.

Congress has to grant the FCC the authority to compensate private users for auctions of their reclaimed public spectrum.

CEA has long argued that broadcasters have been underutilizing and
overprotecting their spectrum allocations. CEA chief Gary Shapiro made
that point clear Thursday in his keynote speech, applauding the FCC's
plan to reclaim "underutilized spectrum,"
and saying broadcasters were "squatting, now, on our broadband

Genachowski says the incentive auction would allow for a mechanism to "unleash the value of that spectrum for broadband." He said given that pressing need, "how can we justify shielding broadcast spectrum from market forces?"
He planned to tell his audience that the FCC would continue to work toward auctioning that spectrum, but also called on Congress to move swiftly. "It's time to take the necessary steps to ensure that spectrum will be the great enabler of mobile innovation in the 21st century, not a chokepoint," he said.

Genachowski said that unleashing spectrum is "at the top of the FCC's 2011 agenda," though it will be sharing the agenda with implementing network neutrality rules, voting on the Comcast/NBCU merger and a number of other broadband-related issues.

"If we don't tackle the spectrum challenge, network congestion will grow, and consumer frustration will grow with it," he said, "We'll put our country's economic competitiveness at risk, and squander the opportunity to lead the world in mobile."

"Broadcasters have no quarrel with an incentive auction that is truly voluntary,"said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton in response to reports of the chairman's speech. "It's also noteworthy that broadcasters have already returned 108 MHz of spectrum to the government, a position that makes us the only user of airwaves that has returned spectrum to the government. Simply put, broadcast television is far and away the most efficient user of spectrum because of a one-to-many' transmission system that is remarkably reliable in a communications era best known for inconsistent 'one-to-one' cellphone connections."

  NAB launched an on-air and online campaign this week promoting over-the-air broadcasting as an important player in the digital space.