FCC Chair: Broadcasters Can Share to Boost Mobile

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski tried to reassure worried broadcasters at the National Association for Broadcasters (NAB) show in Las Vegas today that the plan to free up more TV spectrum for wireless use will not unduly affect them.

The FCC chief was defending the Commission's plan to try and free up 500MHz of spectrum for mobile services over the next 10 years. The FCC wants to get 120MHz of that bandwidth from existing broadcast TV spectrum by 2015, a strategy that has broadcasters getting edgy. (See FCC Proposes 300MHz More Spectrum by 2015 and NAB Concerned About Broadband Plan Spectrum.) Genachowski initially laid out why wireless needs so much more spectrum:

"Data from multiple sources submitted as part of our broadband record tell us to expect a 40-fold increase in mobile Internet demand over the next five years," Genachowski said in prepared remarks delivered to show-goers. "That 40-fold increase in demand compares to a three-fold increase in spectrum for mobile broadband coming online."

To get the 120MHz from TV channels, the FCC is planning to look at current spectrum usage and consider some "repackaging" for more efficient use of bandwidth. However, the agency also wants some TV broadcasters to consider sharing spectrum and broadcasting multiple HD streams on what would have once been a single channel. Spectrum saved by this mechanism would be auctioned off to the mobile industry.

Genachowski stressed that any channel sharing and resulting auctions would be "voluntary" for broadcasters: "The plan would give broadcasters the choice to contribute their licensed spectrum to the auction and participate in the upside.

"If a relatively small number of broadcasters in a relatively small number of markets share spectrum, our staff believes we can free up a very significant amount of bandwidth."

The spectrum effort is one of the elements of the National Broadband Plan that the FCC doesn't expect will be impinged on by a court ruling in favor of Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) on contentious "net neutrality" issues recently. Genachowski's NAB talk, however, is likely just the start of his spectrum hunt, as the TV bandwidth represents just under a quarter of the total spectrum the FCC wants to free up for wireless use by 2020. (See Is the FCC's Grand Plan in Trouble? and Net Neutrality Ruling: FCC Loses, Comcast Wins.)

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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