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FCC's Levin calls U.S. the Doug Flutie of Wireless, calls for more spectrum

America's standing in wireless broadband can be compared to former football player Doug Flutie, says Blair Levin, the person in charge of figuring out how to connect all of the nation to high-speed Internet

Pound for pound, Flutie was awesome. But he was also short (5'10).

Which is to say, even though we've got great wireless networks and technology now, we won't be able to compete with mobile broadband powerhouses giants like South Korea and Japan in the future. In order to stay ahead and remain a leader, we need to get more radio airwaves -- or spectrum -- into the hands of carriers to develop future generations of wireless networks, said Levin, executive director of the Federal Communications Commission's Omnibus broadband initiative.

"Spectrum is like height. If you don’t have it, it’s pretty hard to be in the big leagues. As they say, you can’t coach height," he wrote in a blog post.

So Levin has said he is considering recapturing airwaves currently held by over-the-air broadcasters and auction that spectrum to wireless companies as part of the agency's master national broadband plan. It's an idea that already has broadcasters, fierce protectors of their airwaves licenses, up in arms. The National Association of Broadcasters has already scoffed, saying a move could limit consumer access to broadcasting.

Consumer Electronics Association, however, told the FCC last Friday that it believed broadcasters were sitting on $62 billion worth of spectrum. In their commissioned report, economist Coleman Bazelon said that those over-the-airwaves had become less important for broadcasters.

"Mobile broadband has the potential to create amazing opportunities for American citizens and the U.S. economy," Levin said in an interview. "But none of this can happen without spectrum. So the challenge as we develop a National Broadband Plan is to understand the tough trade-offs, come up with creative options, and produce a plan that will help deliver all the opportunities that mobile broadband can provide."

The FCC's broadband plan, mandated by Congress, is due next February and the consideration of freeing spectrum for commercial use isn't final. But it could be one way to bring more wireless capacity to carriers who have been lobbying for the agency to provide an additional 800 MHZ in order to meet what is expected to be an explosion of demand in mobile data traffic. AT&T projects that by 2018, mobile data traffic will increase by a factor of 250 to 600. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has warned of a "looming spectrum crisis."

But what's in the pipeline? About 50 MHz, "and it's not very good spectrum for mobile broadband," Levin said.

By Cecilia Kang  |  October 30, 2009; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Broadband , Mobile , Spectrum  | Tags: blair levin, broadband, doug flutie, fcc, wireless  
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There are a lot of very useful services on the radio spectrum. We should resist the temptation of taking away their spectrum allocations and giving the spectrum to the large wireless corporations. We should not throw away the existing users. In addition, many of the allocations are established by international agreements and the Commission is constrained by these agreements.

Posted by: nleggett | October 31, 2009 12:18 PM | Report abuse

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