Skip to main content

White House Official: President Does Not Back Mandatory Spectrum Reclamation

Eyeing tens of billions in potential revenues from a re-auction of private and government spectrum, and its re-use to power broadband innovation across the country, President Obama has put the FCC's National Broadband Plan to reclaim 500 MHz on a fast track. But the president's proposal does not support forcing broadcasters or other private stakeholders into giving up spectrum.

Citing the looming spectrum crunch, the White House outlined June 28 a four-point plan to fast-track the process. That will include an Oct. 1, 2010, deadline for identifying spectrum that can be made available within five years.

And the White House is not waiting around for a bill, currently held up in Congress, that requires a spectrum inventory. A senior White House official said the FCC and others should not have to wait for that bill to proceed with an inventory or begin auctions. But while the administration supports a voluntary reclamation of spectrum, a senior White House official, speaking on background, said the president did not support making that process mandatory.

"The president supports a voluntary approach, one in which people are only giving up the amount of spectrum they are using if it is something they want to do based on the compensation they are getting...[the memorandum] is not endorsing mandatory. The whole philosophy is win-win-win." The official said the administration is confident sufficient spectrum can be obtained voluntarily.

Actually, the White House sees four "wins" in that equation, saying in a White House release further outlining the process that it will provide gains for "incumbent spectrum holders, new licensees of the released spectrum, consumers who use the new services made possible by the released spectrum, and the federal Treasury."

Broadcasters have said they would be willing to work with the administration on the goal of expanding broadband, but are concerned that the process is not as voluntary as it seems.

The president issued a memorandum on the spectrum fast-track proposal Monday, saying that "America's future competitiveness and global technology leadership depend, in part, upon the availability of additional spectrum. The world is going wireless, and we must not fall behind...we can use our American ingenuity to wring abundance from scarcity, by finding ways to use spectrum more efficiently. We can also unlock the value of otherwise underutilized spectrum and open new avenues for spectrum users to derive value through the development of advanced, situation-aware spectrum-sharing technologies."

The four main points of the plan are: 1) "Identify and plan for the release of 500 MHz of spectrum," preferably as early as this October; "Provide the tools needed to effectively reallocate spectrum," which would include incentive auctions for broadcasters and money for up-front planning and for federal agencies, say money for high-speed rail for the Department of Transportation; 3) " Enable spectrum to be put to its highest value uses," which means licensed mobile broadband and unlicensed uses; and 4) Use the auction proceeds to promote public safety, job-creating infrastructure investment and deficit reduction; a White House official said priority for auction proceeds would be for an interoperable communications network, though the White House is not endorsing a particular plan for achieving that.

"The Administration's strong actions on wireless broadband will move us significantly towards sustainable economic success, robust investment, and global leadership in innovation," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in a statement.

"The Presidential Memorandum released today recognizes the importance of spectrum to America's economic growth and the urgent need to make the most use of this limited resource while protecting vital federal operations," said NTIA Administrator Lawrence Strickling. "NTIA welcomes the President's challenge and has already initiated work with the FCC and other federal agencies. By supporting the growth of wireless broadband and technologies in America, we are laying the groundwork for greater innovation, new 21st century jobs, and enhanced global competiveness."

Free Press Policy Counsel Chris Riley praised the proposal, but was looking for a shout-out from the president on the FCC's broadband reclassification proposal.

"We are glad the White House is taking the necessary steps to help move a crucial piece of the National Broadband Plan," said Riley in a statement. "We encourage the administration to support the rest of the plan, which is now in jeopardy, by endorsing FCC Chairman Genachowski's Third Way proposal to restore the agency's broadband oversight authority."