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FCC To Examine Wireless Broadband Demands

All those new iPhones and Blackberries are great for AT&T, Verizon, Sprint Nextel and other carriers for now. But if the pace of growth in smart phones keeps up, the networks carrying service to those phones run the risk of becoming overloaded.

That's the scary scenario being painted by wireless operators who are pushing government regulators to make more public spectrum available to them.

Now, the FCC is weighing in. The agency is launching a review of the situation, and asking if current allocations of the public airwaves can handle future Internet traffic.

"We seek additional comment on the fundamental question of whether current spectrum allocations ... are adequate to support near- and longer-term demands of wireless broadband," the agency said in a call for public comment Wednesday.

The agency is asking questions about wireless airwaves as it puts together its national broadband plan by next February.

The spectrum issue ties into a debate on net neutrality. The bandwidth on wireless airwaves isn't as robust as the pipes that lead into homes, they argue, and that's why they should not be subject to rules that would bar them from discriminating against applications or services. Capacity constraints require them to manage traffic, they say.

The wireless industry's head lobbyist for the FCC hammered the point on spectrum scarcity over lunch Thursday, saying there was "a crisis brewing" if companies couldn't get their hands on more of that airwave gold.

Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs for CTIA-The Wireless Association, showed me a slide deck comparing spectrum availability and coming allocations of airwaves in the United States and other nations. The U.S., with more cell phone users than any other developed nation, has about 409 mhz of spectrum assigned by the government for commercial use. That's more than most nations and that's the good news. The bad news, according to Guttman-McCabe, is that it only has about 50 mhz of spectrum in the pipeline for commercial carriers, while countries such as Japan are making 165 mhz available. Germany has 340 mhz coming down the pike and the British have put aside 355 mhz for wireless companies.

By Cecilia Kang  |  September 24, 2009; 3:45 PM ET  | Category:  Cecilia Kang
Previous: FCC 2009 Schedule for Open Meetings | Next: Report Questions Rumors Of DOJ Telecom Probe

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Just thought you and your readers might want to know about an open set of dinner meetings--monthly from October through March--on the future of handheld communications (AKA Smart Phones). Rob Pegoraro is our leadoff speaker. Take a look at

Posted by: mike_leavitt | September 25, 2009 10:31 AM

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