LAS VEGAS, April 13, 2010 -- As the United States passes through a "transformative digital age," closing the gap between spectrum demand and availability will be crucial to the nation's economic growth and global leadership in mobile broadband, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski told attendees Tuesday at the National Association of Broadcasters annual convention.
"Having a world-leading broadband infrastructure is a vital part of our national strategy to compete globally and have an enduring engine of job creation and economic growth in the 21st century," Genachowski said.
But the United States is lagging globally in "the rate of change in innovative capacity" when it comes to spectrum, he said, claiming a study places the United States last out of 40 nations studied. "We’re at serious risk as a country in not moving quickly enough on our technology infrastructure in and other areas to remain the world’s leader in innovation," he cautioned.
Based on current trends, demand will soon outstrip supply, he said, pointing to recent filings before the commission during the creation of the National Broadband Plan in which more than 100 companies told the agency: "Our nation’s ability to lead the world in innovation and technology is threatened by the lack of sufficient spectrum for wireless broadband applications and services.”
Those comments are not "theory or idle speculation," he said. “It's math and physics."
Genachowski pushed the National Broadband Plan's proposal for "incentive auctions" in which broadcasters would sell back some licensed spectrum and share other spectrum with another broadcaster.
This would allow broadcasters to stay on the air, gain infusions of capital and allow new voices on the air, he said.
Genachowski defended the auctions, which have been criticized by some members of the broadband community. He reminded broadcasters that no licensee would be forced to participate. "These auctions are voluntary. Period," he said. And not many broadcasters would have to participate for the plan to succeed, he noted -- just a small number of licensees in areas with the greatest demand for spectrum.
Participating broadcasters could set a reserve price, Genachowski pointed out, which would guarantee a desired profit while preventing an unacceptable risk of loss. He said broadcasters are not being singled out as targets, adding that broadcast spectrum is less than a quarter of the 500 megahertz the plan targets for reclaiming, he said.