Spectrum auction moves closer

The voluntary repurposing of the nation's broadcast spectrum came closer to fruition today when the FCC voted to approve the Incentive Auction Notice of Proposed Rule Making and opened the decision to public comment.

The auction is aimed at encouraging broadcasters to relinquish unused or little-used spectrum to the rapidly expanding mobile telecommunications industry. As a financial incentive, broadcasters that give up spectrum will receive a portion of the auction proceeds. According to the FCC, "As mobile device adoption continues to grow around the world, this incentive auction will be a model for many countries facing similar spectrum challenges."

Certainly, there is ample reason to provide mobile with more resources. As the FCC said, "The mobile apps economy barely existed in 2009 but today, it supports nearly 500,000 jobs. The wireless industry contributes about $150 billion annually to U.S. GDP - and that number is growing."

Congress has mandated that this auction take place in three stages. In the words of the FCC, those are:

  • A "reverse auction" in which broadcast television licensees submit bids to voluntarily relinquish spectrum usage rights in exchange for payments
  • A reorganization or "repacking" of the broadcast television bands in order to free up a portion of the ultra-high frequency (UHF) band for other uses
  • A "forward auction" of initial licenses for flexible use of the newly available spectrum

However, there remains the lengthy period of public comment and, presumably, drafting of the rules before the actual auction takes place. The FCC is looking for input on, among others, the following points:

  • Auction design choices and "the tradeoffs they present."
  • Repacking. How to implement Congress's mandate to make "all reasonable efforts" to preserve the "coverage area and population served" by existing television stations
  • Unlicensed Use of Spectrum. How to make a substantial amount of spectrum available for unlicensed uses
  • Transition. How to clear the reclaimed spectrum as expeditiously as possible while minimizing disruption to broadcast television stations and their viewers.

When the comment and rulemaking are completed, there still remains a large question mark: since the FCC cannot compel stations to auction off spectrum, will they actually do so?

Speed Matters supports the spectrum auction and will be vigilant to ensure that benefits flow to the nation's consumers. After all, that spectrum is the property of the American people, and ought to be used in the interests of all.

FCC launches first-in-the-world incentive auction to repurpose broadcast television spectrum for mobile broadband (FCC news release, Sep. 28, 2012)