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FCC Plan for TV Spectrum Includes ‘Reverse Auction’

Under the plan, the FCC would be the sole purchaser of TV spectrum that individual stations would surrender

The U.S. government would purchase unused television spectrum from broadcasters who voluntarily surrender part of their spectrum, and the government would then auction those frequencies to wireless service providers under a “reverse auction” plan proposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

“Incentive auctions will drive faster speeds, greater capacity, and ubiquitous mobile coverage,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement. “These are essential ingredients for innovation and leadership in the 21st-century economy where smartphones and tablets powered by 4G LTE and Wi-Fi networks are proliferating, and the mobile Internet becomes more important every day.”

Under the plan, the FCC would be the sole purchaser of TV spectrum that individual stations would surrender, and the commission would conduct the TV spectrum auction—the first major auction of spectrum since 2008—to provide more frequencies for wireless-service providers such as AT&T Inc., Verizon and others to meet the demand for airwaves used by mobile devices such as tablet computers and smartphones.

President Barack Obama’s administration has made freeing up more broadcast spectrum a priority, and the FCC’s commissioners are scheduled to vote on the proposal on Sept. 28, 2012 at the commission’s open meeting at its Washington headquarters. Because the NPRM is to be voted on, the FCC is not making the document public until it is approved, a commission official tells Government Video.

However, general aspects of the NPRM include seeking comments on how best to approach the initial airwaves purchase, the reassignment of stations in markets around the country and the auction to wireless providers, according to published reports.

In addition, the NPRM will allow TV stations to decide whether to keep their airwaves and stay in business, sell part of their allotments, or sell all their airwaves and take a one-time payoff to cease broadcasting. And once broadcasters decide which plan to follow, the FCC will reassign some TV stations to new frequencies to assemble blocks of clear airwaves that would be attractive to mobile providers.

While not providing details, Genachowski’s statement addresses the overall goals of the NPRM. It says, “Just two years after the concept of incentive auctions was first proposed in the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, and as a result of authority granted through legislation signed into law in February, the commission is poised to take an important step toward pioneering the world’s first incentive auctions and freeing up significant spectrum for mobile broadband.

“As smartphones and tablets proliferate, the opportunities to benefit consumers and businesses become clearer every day. The mobile experience for millions of consumers and small business owners will improve as a result of successful incentive auctions. Over the last few years, the U.S. has regained global leadership in mobile innovation, and we must not let up now.

“To ensure ongoing innovation in mobile broadband, we must pursue several strategies vigorously: freeing up more spectrum for both licensed use and for unlicensed services like Wi-Fi; driving faster speeds, greater capacity, and ubiquitous mobile Internet coverage; and taking additional steps to ensure that our invisible infrastructure for mobile innovation can meet the needs of the 21st century.

“If adopted, the incentive auction proposal before the Commission will accelerate these strategies. Incentive auctions will help create jobs and strengthen U.S. competitiveness in a world where, increasingly, mobile leadership is required for leadership in the global innovation economy,” Genachowski says.

In addition, stakeholders are anxious about the plan, including the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), which issued a statement. “The auctions will yield innumerable benefits for American consumers to access wireless broadband and ensure that devices such as smartphones and tablets can continue to connect to those networks,” says Julie Kearney, the CEA’s vice president of regulatory affairs. “We applaud the FCC for its work in helping the U.S. maintain its leadership in global technology and innovation by making sure our wireless broadband products have more usable spectrum.”