The agency put that spectrum strategy before Congress as part of the National Broadband plan released by the FCC today. If the plan's recommendations are implemented, it would vastly increase the available spectrum for fixed and mobile wireless services. The FCC's last major auction in 2008 allocated 62MHz of 700MHz spectrum, largely intended for next-generation mobile broadband services.
The agency wants a number of new spectrum auctions to take place within five years, including:
- 120MHz of reallocated TV broadcast spectrum (this is the most controversial part of the plan as it would require broadcasters to vacate or share spectrum)
- 90MHz of MMS satellite spectrum to be used for terrestrial purposes in regions where it is difficult to deploy cellular
- 60MHz of Advanced Wireless Spectrum (AWS) in the 1900MHz and 2000MHz range (this will involve the federal government moving off some spectrum)
- 20MHz of Wireless Communications Spectrum (WCS) in the 2.3GHz range
- A re-auction of 10MHz D Block of 700MHz band for "commercial use" that is compatible with public safety services (this is likely to disappoint advocates for a dedicated first responder network in that band)
"We are concerned by reports today that suggest many aspects of the plan may in fact not be as voluntary as originally promised," the NAB said. "Moreover, as the nation's only communications service that is free, local and ubiquitous, we would oppose any attempt to impose onerous new spectrum fees on broadcasters." (See NAB Concerned About Broadband Plan Spectrum.)
In the plan, the FCC suggests that broadcasters have a large amount of spectrum for a shrinking service that is used exclusively by only 10 percent of the population. Whereas, it expects the wireless industry is growing and will help drive job growth in the US in the next 10 years.
It suggests that the FCC look for ways to more efficiently "repackage" channels and encourage broadcasters to share the 6MHz of spectrum they are generally allocated. It hopes that repacking alone will allow 36Mhz of spectrum to be reallocated, perhaps much more.
The agency, however, never explicitly lays out where the full 120MHz might be reclaimed from, as it doesn't put a total on how much network sharing might save. Nonetheless, it hopes to re-examine the spectrum, auction it, and have it available for mobile use by 2015, a timetable it acknowledges in the report as "aggressive."
Most commissioners in the meeting Tuesday expressed broad support for the spectrum plan. Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, however, homed in the on TV spectrum element, worrying that the FCC might be "sacrificing" a crucial free source of news and information for a diverse set of communities if -- as seems inevitable -- some broadcast stations are lost or moved as part of the reallocation. In the plan, the FCC stresses that it will do all it can make changes as smooth and non-intrusive as possible.
The last part of the spectrum chapter of the plan focuses on how the US can make efficient use of existing spectrum. The plan suggests mobile backhaul sharing as a possibility, while commissioners mentioned the use of smart antennas, "cognitive radios," and femtocells as possible capacity-stretchers going forward.
Nonetheless, all commissioners today acknowledged that the "hard work" is really still ahead for the broadband plan. The suggestions it has made have to be approved by Congress before much of anything can be done, and then –- if the plan goes into action as currently written -- the FCC has laid itself a more ambitious schedule for spectrum allocations and auctions than any on its plate in recent years.
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile
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