updated 11:20 pm EDT, Tue October 27, 2009
Shift said to help reduce 'spectrum gap'
The FCC is considering auctioning certain parts of the TV-broadcasting spectrum and selling it to wireless companies for broadband, according to the Wall Street Journal. The shift is designed to help avoid a situation FCC chairman Julius Genachowski recently described as an impending "spectrum crisis," as data usage rates continue to grow faster than the wireless providers can expand available bandwidth.
"The record is very clear that we're facing a looming spectrum gap," said Blair Levin, the FCC's coordinator for creating a national broadband plan. The Commission is currently in the dialogue phase of the project, providing an opportunity for feedback from the industry.
Broadcasting companies are expected to oppose any proposition that involves further limitations of their allocated spectrum. National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton warns against changes that "limit consumer access to the full potential of digital broadcasting."
A study spearheaded by the Consumer Electronics Association, however, estimates that the government could generate up to $62 billion if the TV airwaves are sold to the highest bidders. The study also suggests payments to broadcasters and costs of transitioning viewers to wired services could reach approximately $21 billion.
The FCC claims a "spectrum gap" could impair Internet connectivity on mobile devices such as cellphones. Although a variety of devices contribute to the problem, the iPhone is viewed as a leader. On average, owners of Apple's smartphone have proven to be disproportionately voracious consumers of wireless bandwidth.
Along with the proposed plan for TV spectrum, the FCC is also mulling a variety of alternative ideas that might help to avoid bandwidth problems. Other considerations include utilizing unlicensed spectrum or revamping licensing rules to expand sharing of a single frequency by multiple carriers.
While the CEA study proposed a full sale of the entire TV spectrum, the FCC is said to be more likely to take a portion of the current allocation. The Commission has not yet disclosed an estimate regarding how much of the spectrum might be taken back.