LAS VEGAS, January 10, 2011 - FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski highlighted the Commission's successes in the 111th Congress and looked to its goals in the 112th during a discussion with at the Consumer Electronics Show on Friday.
The conversation between the Chairman and the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) CEO, Gary Shapiro, took place in front of a crowd of hundreds of tech industry representatives, analysts and journalists at the Las Vegas Convention Center and focused almost entirely on the need for sound, progressive mobile broadband policy.
During his brief introductory remarks, Genachowski promoted a sense of urgency with respect to protecting and advancing America's place in the global mobile broadband race through making radio spectrum more available for mobile broadband use and promoting the build-out of mobile broadband infrastructure.
"The consumer electronic industry is going wireless," said Genachowski, citing a projection that anticipates growth by a factor of 35 in the coming five years for mobile broadband use. "The future success of this wide-ranging industry and others depends on whether our government acts quickly to unleash more spectrum - the oxygen that sustains our mobile devices."
The FCC's plan to free up radio spectrum for mobile broadband use includes both reallocating spectrum from other uses and making more efficient use of existing spectrum. As part of the National Broadband Plan (NBP), the Commission's aim is to reallocate 500Mhz of spectrum to mobile broadband over the next 10 years.
"If we do [free up more spectrum]," said Genachowski, "we can drive billions of dollars in new private investment, fueling world-leading innovations, creating millions of new jobs, and enabling endless new products and services that can help improve the lives of all Americans."
Genachowski continued, using the CES discussion to highlight one of the primary modes of reallocating spectrum that the FCC has promoted: voluntary incentive auctions. In an incentive auction, an existing licensee would be encouraged on a strictly voluntary basis to offer part or all of its licensed bandwidth to the FCC for auction to another licensee in exchange for monetary compensation. The plan is primarily directed at over-the-air broadcasters, who frequently hold licenses for more bandwidth than they use. The incentive auction plan, which the National Association of Broadcasters opposes, may not proceed until Congress gives express approval.
Additionally, the Chairman called on the tech industry to drive mobile broadband adoption by consumers and entrepreneurs, while promising to pursue policies that facilitate the faster build-out of next-generation mobile networks.
During his discussion with Shapiro, Genachowski commended the policies and programs that enabled the deployment of the telephone network in the U.S., calling them integral to the rise of the country as an economic superpower, but insisted that it is necessary to move beyond those policies for future growth. He referenced the Universal Service Fund (USF), which in part helped fund the build-out of the telephone system and continues to provide subsidies for rural telephone service.
"Universal service for communications is very important," said the Chairman, "but the USF focuses on phone; we need to focus on broadband."
As part of the NBP, legacy programs under the USF would be replaced by broadband deployment under the Connect America Fund.
Though the conversation focused primarily on the issue of mobile broadband spectrum, at one point it diverged to the controversial Open Internet Order handed down by the Commission in December. Shapiro posed the question of whether, with expanding availability mobile broadband, more competition and market forces would obviate the need for FCC regulation on Net Neutrality. Major telecommunications companies, such as Verizon Communications and AT&T - both of which are part of the CEA - have been vocal critics of the order. Genachowski declined to make a projection on the matter.