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Posted at 12:51 PM ET, 01/ 7/2011

UPDATE: CES: FCC Chairman vows to seek more spectrum for mobile broadband

By Cecilia Kang

Update 5:21 p.m. After speech

LAS VEGAS --Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski said Friday that the agency's top priority for the year is to make more airwaves available for all those tablets, smartphones and Internet-connected appliances on display at the Consumer Electronics Show.

In a speech before a packed audience at CES, Genachowski warned that without reclaiming more airwaves for mobile broadband networks, consumers face slow smartphone and tablet connections and the economy could suffer as a result.

"If we don’t tackle the spectrum challenge, network congestion will grow, and consumer frustration will grow with it," Genachowski said in his speech. "We’ll put our country’s economic competitiveness at risk, and squander the opportunity to lead the world in mobile."

But before that happens, Genachowski will have to surmount his biggest obstacle: broadcasters who may be reluctant to give up those valuable airwaves as they launch their own live mobile TV plans. Check out this video of NAB President Gordon Smith responding to criticism of broadcasters.

Genachowski has pushed for "incentive auctions" that will need legislation this year to proceed. Those auctions would allow broadcasters to voluntarily give up airwaves for auction and shares in the proceeds from the sales.

Going into 2011, Genachowski said spectrum issues will be the agency's top priority. The past year has been largely dominated by his Internet access rules enacted last month, the creation of a national broadband plan, and a federal court decision that prompted questions about the agency's legal authority over broadband Internet networks.

The FCC chairman wants to free up 500 megahertz of spectrum for mobile broadband. So far, the agency has been piecemealing airwaves to make that goal. The agency has recovered 25 megahertz previously used for WCS -- wireless communications services -- and will make available 90 megahertz of mobile satellite spectrum for terrestrial broadband. He passed an order on super-WiFi unlicensed spectrum use, known as white spaces.

But the biggest pot he wants to use for mobile broadband lies in unused television airwaves.

"Given the need for mobile broadband, how can we justify shielding broadcast spectrum from market forces?" Genachowski said. "Incentive auctions would be a big win for our country."

Smith, in an interview with Post Tech, said that live broadcasting of television on mobile devices will serve a market that's being overlooked in the debate. And incentive auctions for broadcasters could face obstacles in Congress.

"I'm telling broadcasters, if you want to volunteer that's fine, but you better wait for the check to clear," Smith said.

By Cecilia Kang  | January 7, 2011; 12:51 PM ET
Categories:  CES, FCC  
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Incentive auctions give money to broadcasters for entitlements they never paid for in the first place. If this freed up spectrum is then given over to conventional cellular carriers it will stifle innovation and gut the potential of unlicensed UHF bands.

Is this new spectrum for mobile broadband going to be unlicensed "super Wi-Fi" or will it be sold to carriers?

Posted by: nymble | January 7, 2011 7:38 PM | Report abuse

The idea of an "incentive" auction is absurd. Every holder of an FCC license is required to agree that he or she has no rights due to prior use. The broadcasters have all agreed to this. Why give them money? Is it a bribe to persuade them not to make political trouble?

Posted by: LBrettGlass | January 7, 2011 11:53 PM | Report abuse

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