In an October forum held by the FCC, Chairman Julius Genachowski likened the opportunity wireless spectrum presents for the United States to that of cross-continental railroads, expansive highway systems, electric power lighting the homes of millions of Americans.
He said the opportunity could create thousands of jobs, help establish the US as a leading economic power, and spur revenues of up to $120 billion.
He also said that spectrum consumption among consumers is spiking, that we’re on track to out-pace the amount of spectrum available, and that failure to implement a framework in which more spectrum is unleashed will put the US behind other countries in the global race to connectivity.
“What does this mean?” Genachowski said in his prepared remarks before the summit. “It means that in addition to the importance of our physical infrastructure of fiber and cable, we must also have a laser-like focus on our “invisible infrastructure” –spectrum.”
Wireless spectrum is the invisible medium of airwaves. We use it everyday on our smartphones, laptops and tablets. Every time a consumer surfs the web, checks e-mail, or watches a video on a mobile device, they’re tapping into the spectrum. And, in a country with 61 million smartphones and counting, the amount of spectrum we tap is expected to grow between 25 and 50 percent, a demand that will exceed the capacity under current spectrum availability in within the next five years.
In order to deflect the spectrum crunch, the FCC put forth the National Broadband Plan, which enumerates a two-pronged approach to taking advantage of the opportunity at hand. The goals: make more spectrum available and facilitate more efficient use of available spectrum.
The Broadband Plan sets a goal of unleashing 500 megahertz of spectrum for broadband over the next 10 years, and 300 over the next five.
One of the mainstays of the new plan is the never-before-used practice of incentive auctions. With these auctions, current spectrum licensees, such as television broadcasters, would relinquish spectrum to the FCC for auction. The FCC would then auction off the spectrum for wireless use and share the proceeds with the broadcasters.
“It’s a win-win-win,” Genachowski said. “The country can benefit from freeing up spectrum for mobile use. Taxpayers can benefit from billions in auction revenue. And the current holders of spectrum – including local television stations — can receive a capital infusion and still be able distribute their programming by sharing with other stations, or through other platforms such as cable and satellite.”
The National Broadband Plan also endeavors to lift technical restrictions to broadcast spectrum so that it can be reconfigured for broadband use. This would allow networks to share channels.
Other parts of the plan are aimed at transitioning television to VHF, which is more efficient for broadcast, and the lifting of regulations to expand experimental licensing, which should drive innovative and efficient use of spectrum.
The FCC also created a Technology and Advising Committee, which is tasked with driving spectrum efficiency and developing new frameworks for broadband that will spur job creation and growth.
All in all, the plan is ambitious, yet necessarily so. Failure to free up broadband will cause innovative companies with new products to go overseas. At such an inflection point, where other nations are close on our heals, $120 billion in revenue is at stake, and the economy is in a shaky state, the National Broadband Plan should be adopted rapidly.