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FCC’s Genachowski to Broadcasters: Voluntary Spectrum Auctions Are Coming

At CES 2011, FCC chair Julius Genachowski addressed an overflow audience and then sat down for a brief conversation with CEA president Gary Shapiro. “Unleashing spectrum to help mobile grow is on the top of our list,” declared Genachowski, who noted that increase of spectrum would happen “through voluntary release of spectrum” by broadcasters. “I applaud the companies whose billions of dollars into 4G investment will bring about changes.”

FCC chair Julius Genachowski

Genachowski noted the promise of increased mobile spectrum. “There was no commercial market in tablets at last CES,” he said. “Now [research firm] Gartner predicts that 55 million tablets will be sold this year. Internet connected sensors are moving into appliances and cars. Digital textbooks in the next 3 years will expand opportunities for kids in the next few years. Let’s see the U.S. be the first to move from paper to digital textbooks in the next few years.” “Mobile broadband technology is being adopted more quickly than any computer technology in history,” he continued. “It requires something we can’t see…spectrum. Spectrum is becoming increasingly essential to the daily lives of Americans. Whether Americans know the physics, they know what it’s like to have a dropped call or cranky WiFi. They know we need to lead the world in mobile, not fall behind. While our appetite is limitless, spectrum is not. The coming spectrum crunch threatens our lead in mobile.” “By next years CES, I hope the FCC will be further ahead with voluntary incentive options to harness free market forces to make sure spectrum is put to its most valuable uses,” said Genachowski. “The incentive option proposal would tap great potential. In the case of TV broadcasters, the station could share a channel with more or one stations, not broadcast or give up the 6 MHz station. The percentage of viewers who watch TV over the air, has declined from 100 percent to under 10 percent. How can we justify shielding broadcast spectrum from the auction? Auctions of continuous spectrum would unlock value.” That was music to the ears of CEA president Shapiro, who half-jokingly asked when broadcasters would give up the spectrum they’d been “squatting on.” “With this National Broadband policy, broadcasters and others will be compensated if you come forth voluntarily,” Shapiro said. “I’ve taken heat from broaddcasters when I’ve asked, why do they have to be compensated? They’re being “loaned” the spectrum anyway.” “The allotment of a checkerboard of 6 MHz stations made sense in the 20th century and worked well,” said Genachowski.  We commercialized our spectrum better and faster than other countries. But some of the things that made us global leaders in the 20th century pose strategic challenges in the 21st.  Some of that includes the spectrum policies. This is nothing negative against broadcasters. But this is a disruptive tech we have to take advantage of for our economy. Let’s bring market perspective into this. The evidence is clear that the value for mobile broadband is high.”


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