updated 02:42 pm EDT, Sun September 30, 2012
Evaluating plans for purchase, consolidation, future sale of spectrum
In February, Congress passed legislation allowing the FCC to re-allocate wireless spectrum by acquiring it from television broadcasters. The three-phase plan to re-acquire bandwidth has entered the rule-making process on Friday. The reverse auction process will allow the FCC to rearrange the remaining broadcasters to make larger blocks of spectrum available for other uses, such as existing wireless internet technology, or other future technologies. Unallocated spectrum will be placed up for auction, with the government expecting to make more money on the auction that it did buying the bandwidth freed by the shift to digital broadcasting. The FCC is seeking public comment on the details of the plan.
John Bergmayer of consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge praised the initial proposal and the reasoning behind it. "It makes little sense to waste spectrum on unwatched signals," Bergmayer claimed. "The incentive auction approach strikes an appropriate balance by allowing some broadcasters to 'cash out' while putting their spectrum to better use."
Part of the auction and consolidation program addresses the "spectrum screen," a set of rules that govern deals that pass through the FCC which ideally is intended on preventing any one company from controlling too much of the wireless spectrum. Each transaction is given its own spectrum screen, and as of yet, there isn't a mandate on a single set of rules. While there are general guidelines, the rules for each transaction are unique and determined during the review process. A single universal formula could provide "clarity and predictability" to the review process. The review is scheduled to take place before the FCC auctions off broadcaster airwaves to cellular carriers in the third phase of the plan.
"Additional spectrum is not only key to our national competitiveness, but also needed for creating jobs and spurring economic growth," said Consumer Electronics Association spokesperson Julie Kearney. The FCC has not announced expected earnings from the process, nor has it commented on a timetable for the sales.