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FCC Swaps TV Spectrum for Mobile Broadband

Sarah Thomas

Amidst net neutrality discussion this week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) moved forward with its proposal to free up TV broadcast frequencies that might become available in future spectrum auctions for mobile broadband use. (See FCC to Auction TV Spectrum.)

The commission voted 5-0 for the notice of proposed rulemaking designed to address spectrum scarcity for mobile broadband services. But, the plan is contingent on TV broadcasters voluntarily freeing up their spectrum in preparation for 120MHz auctions. (See FCC Proposes 300MHz More Spectrum by 2015.)

As part of this plan to stop the spectrum crunch and promote President Obama's goal of freeing up 500 MHz of spectrum over the next 10 years, the FCC's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is seeking comments on strategies for:

  • TV broadcasters to voluntarily combine their operations and programming lineups on a single TV channel, opening their TV bands to fixed, mobile, and broadcast services
  • Broadcasters to share channels through the technical capabilities allowed by the digital transition in 2009
  • To improve TV reception on VHF channels, 2 through 13, by increasing transmitter power, making them usable in the future

"We know it will not be easy to free up spectrum for mobile broadband from the existing broadcast TV band," FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement. "Neither was the process that led to the DTV transition and the resulting freeing of spectrum. Yet it is at least as necessary as the process that began more than 20 years ago. And, because of how fast our global competitors are moving, it’s essential that we move rapidly."

Why this matters
If the spectrum auctions the FCC is proposing are approved by Congress, they could raise upwards of $120 billion, the FCC says. Importantly, the rules, combined with the spectrum the FCC has already cleared and its proposal for unlicensed use of white spaces introduced in September, offer a solution to the oft-discussed spectrum crunch. (See FCC Opens Up TV White Spaces.)

Mobile Internet usage in the US is showing no signs of slowing, meaning that spectrum efficiency will only become more vital in the future as spectrum is all but used up. As long as the TV broadcasters get on board, which many are slowly beginning to do thanks to incentive auctions, wireless operators stand a chance of accommodating the influx of data usage -- at least in the short term.

For more
For more on the FCC's progress on mobile broadband, white spaces, and spectrum efficiency, please check out these other stories:

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

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