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Republicans Agree On 'Insatiable' Demand For Wireless Broadband

Republicans Agree On 'Insatiable' Demand For Wireless Broadband

According to a copy of the majority staff memo on this week's House hearing on spectrum, Republicans are convinced more spectrum must be freed up for wireless, but they will look at a range of places to find it.

"There are a number of spectrum bands that hold the potential to help us meet our goals, but there are tough decisions to be made about how, when, and for what purpose spectrum is put to use," according to the Republican staff memo on the upcoming April 12 hearing in the House Communications Subcommittee. The memo pointed to some of broadcasters concerns about the option of auctioning more of their spectrum.

"While there are few that have outright opposed incentive auctions," the memo said, "there are concerns as to how they could be done with what spectrum. Broadcasters are emphasizing that incentive auctions be truly 'voluntary.' Broadcasters have also raised concerns about how repacking will be handled once licensees voluntarily auction off their spectrum. "

But the memo makes clear the Republicans are on board with the wireless industry's argument that they need more spectrum from somewhere.

"Everyone agrees that there needs to be additional spectrum for wireless broadband," says the memo. "American consumers have an increasingly insatiable demand for wireless broadband Internet access. Smartphone's now comprise more than one-third of all wireless devices sold in a given quarter. App stores, such as Apple's iTunes App Store, Google's Android Marketplace, and Research in Motion's BlackBerry App World, have delivered more than 10 billion apps to wireless consumers. Cisco reports that the amount of data delivered over wireless networks last year was three times the traffic of the entirety of the Internet in 2000. Given these staggering growth figures, it is no surprise that the FCC's National Broadband Plan and the President of the United States are calling for an additional 500 MHz of spectrum to be allocated for wireless broadband use in the next five years."

House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said in January that finding more spectrum for broadband would be a priority, and the hearing memo echoes that goal, but offers a number of options for what spectrum to auction. Among the scenarios the subcommittee will consider are auctioning the AWS-3 (advanced wireless services band), auctioning the D Block of spectrum freed up in the DTV transition, auctioning more broadcast spectrum and paying broadcasters for giving it up (incentive auctions), and a government plan for relocating and sharing government spectrum.

"Auctioning spectrum is one of the most efficient and cost effective ways we can advance broadband deployment." say the Republicans.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski last week joined with over 100 economists to call for incentive auctions for broadcast spectrum, saying that authority needed to be granted ASAP. Republican FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell added an exclamation point, saying the days to get that done were dwindling.

McDowell last week also suggested that since broadcasters who do not give up their spectrum to a voluntary auction will likely have to be moved to free up larger blocks for wireless broadband, by definition the incentive auction scenario will not be entirely voluntary.

The White House 2012 budget currently has those incentive auctions in it, the proceeds from which it also wants to use to fund an interoperable network with the D block--it wants to give it to public safety rather than auction it--and to fund research into new apps.