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FCC mulls auctioning TV spectrum to wireless providers

updated 11:20 pm EDT, Tue October 27, 2009

Shift said to help reduce 'spectrum gap'

The FCC is considering auctioning certain parts of the TV-broadcasting spectrum and selling it to wireless companies for broadband, according to the Wall Street Journal. The shift is designed to help avoid a situation FCC chairman Julius Genachowski recently described as an impending "spectrum crisis," as data usage rates continue to grow faster than the wireless providers can expand available bandwidth.

"The record is very clear that we're facing a looming spectrum gap," said Blair Levin, the FCC's coordinator for creating a national broadband plan. The Commission is currently in the dialogue phase of the project, providing an opportunity for feedback from the industry.

Broadcasting companies are expected to oppose any proposition that involves further limitations of their allocated spectrum. National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton warns against changes that "limit consumer access to the full potential of digital broadcasting."

A study spearheaded by the Consumer Electronics Association, however, estimates that the government could generate up to $62 billion if the TV airwaves are sold to the highest bidders. The study also suggests payments to broadcasters and costs of transitioning viewers to wired services could reach approximately $21 billion.

The FCC claims a "spectrum gap" could impair Internet connectivity on mobile devices such as cellphones. Although a variety of devices contribute to the problem, the iPhone is viewed as a leader. On average, owners of Apple's smartphone have proven to be disproportionately voracious consumers of wireless bandwidth.

Along with the proposed plan for TV spectrum, the FCC is also mulling a variety of alternative ideas that might help to avoid bandwidth problems. Other considerations include utilizing unlicensed spectrum or revamping licensing rules to expand sharing of a single frequency by multiple carriers.

While the CEA study proposed a full sale of the entire TV spectrum, the FCC is said to be more likely to take a portion of the current allocation. The Commission has not yet disclosed an estimate regarding how much of the spectrum might be taken back.

by MacNN Staff



  1. Inkling

    Joined: Dec 1969


    A Better Way

    I wouldn't worry about what broadcasters are saying. TV has always been allocated more spectrum than the quality of what it does justifies, even forgetting that most people now get their TV from cable or satellite anyway.

    On the other hand, we don't want to feed what could become an insatiable demand for on-the-go high-bandwidth media either. It's one thing to stream a TV or movie video via a WiFi that spreads out only a hundred yards or so and is constantly being reused by someone else. It's another to put high-bandwidth entertainment for one person onto the scarce cellular spectrum covering several square miles and tens of thousands of people. The latter is a gross waste of a limited resource.

    The FCC should look into using some of the excess digital capacity of digital TV to broadcast to cell phones. Newspaper and magazine subscriptions could be handled that way, as could popular video like sports. Cell phones could be smart enough not only to spot the telecasts their owners want, but to store them or even allow store-while-streaming. The result would make more sense since it would be:

    * Broadcasting rather than narrowcasting.

    * Using already allocated spectrum

    * Make money for TV broadcasters, so they have no excuse to whine.

    * Since the frequencies are lower and the power higher, building penetration should be much better.

    * Since the cell phone doesn't have to transmit 'I got that' responses, battery life should be better.

  1. siromega

    Joined: Dec 1969


    What excess capacity?

    Maybe in Podunk, PA there is a lot of excess broadcast transmission capacity, but go look at the spectrum charts for LA or NYC, the channels are spaced as closely together as you can get them and the entire chart is filled up. And places like that are most likely to need more capacity.

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