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FCC tries to win over broadcasters on spectrum

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday tried to win over an angry broadcasting industry that doesn’t want to give up spectrum to be used for mobile broadband networks.

The FCC has proposed that 500 megahertz of spectrum be used for commercial wireless carriers – much of which would come from broadcasting airwaves.

"The intention of the proposal is to provide broadcasters with more choice and flexibility, not less. More business model options, not fewer. While at the same time helping address a vital national challenge,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said, according to a prepared text of his speech at the annual National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas.

Members of the broadcast industry, however, said the FCC’s plans would take away valuable spectrum that they need for future business models. And they argue that spectrum could be more efficiently used without taking new spectrum.

In a speech Monday, NAB chief executive Gordon Smith said the plan would “yank away more than one-third of the spectrum used for TV broadcasting so that wireless broadband companies can have more.”

He said the plan stings after broadcasters just spent $15 billion to meet the government’s transition of analog to digital television. Smith called for a thorough inventory of spectrum and exploration of ways to use airwaves more efficiently.

“Broadcasting is not an ATM that can keep spitting out spectrum,” Smith said in his keynote address. “There is a minimum we need in order to be viable for the future, and to sustain the enduring value of free and local television.”

Genachowski tried to clear up confusion about his controversial proposal in the national broadband plan. He stressed that auctions of broadcasters’ airwaves would be voluntary and that broadcasters wouldn’t need to give up all their spectrum to participate in an auction.

“If a relatively small number of broadcasters in a relatively small number of markets share spectrum, our staff believes we can free up a very significant amount of bandwidth,” he said.

He added that the spectrum they are seeking is in urban areas, where wireless capacity problems are more acute. He said there could guidelines in an auction to reduce financial risks for participants such as using reserve prices that would lock in payments for broadcasters.

By Cecilia Kang  |  April 13, 2010; 1:42 PM ET
Categories:  Broadband , FCC , Spectrum  
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