WASHINGTON February 16, 2011 – Officials from the Federal Communications Commission updated the telecommunications subcommittee of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners on the current state of wireless, public safety and wireline competition at the Association’s yearly convention Tuesday.
Ruth Milkman, Chief of Wireless Bureau, emphasized the increasing importance of spectrum for the future of broadband development.
“Spectrum is a scarce and limited resource, we can’t simply mine more of it,” said Milkman. “We must use what we have carefully and to the best of our ability”
The wireless bureau has been tasked to finding 500 megahertz of free spectrum for expanding mobile broadband. Milkman said that the bureau is not only looking at commercial license holders but also wants to reclaim unused spectrum owned by the federal government.
“The first step in reclaiming spectrum is conducting a thorough inventory,” said Milkman. “We have already conducted part of it, and have posted the results online via the spectrum dashboard.”
The dashboard presents a graphical way to identify license holders in the radio spectrum – it can be found here.
The greatest source of new spectrum will be the TV white spaces, which are the bands that were once used for transmitting television signals but now remain empty after the digital transition.
The bureau also plans to explore the possibility of holding incentive auctions to reclaim spectrum which is not being used by its license holder. Milkman said that auctions would be voluntary and would likely be supported by the license holders if they were able to keep the at least a portion of the proceeds from the auction.
“Currently the law states that any spectrum auction proceeds go to the US Treasury,” he said, “but if we can change the law and allow the license holders to profit from the auction they will be much more likely to give up their unused spectrum.”
The incentive auctions have gained support from Sen. John Rockefeller (D-WV), who introduced a bill that would allow the FCC to hold the incentive auctions and allow the commercial owners to keep some of the profits.
David Furth, Deputy Chief of the Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau, also described the importance of spectrum for the proposed national public safety network.
“Unlike previous networks which were created independently then made to work with each other,” Furth said, “we now plan to make a single nationwide network that is designed to be interoperable.”
He then went onto describe potential updates to the e911 system such as allowing text messages or email to be sent to first responders.
Chief of the Governmental and Consumer Affairs Bureau, Joel Gurin spoke mainly about how the consumer bureau is looking to expand their work in “bill shock” to include broadband. Bill shock occurs when customers see a sudden and unexpected increase in their monthly service bills without changing their plans.
“The office of engineering is working with us on an upcoming project on broadband speed,” said Gurin. “We need to inform consumers as to what speeds are needed to run popular applications, [consumers] need to understand what the speeds mean and they need to know how to check if they are getting the speeds that are advertised. We also need to expand truth in advertising to broadband ads.”
Sharon Gillett, Chief of the Wireline Competition Bureau, gave the most expansive presentation going into deep detail on the proposed reforms to the Universal Service Fund (USF).
“We need to update USF to include broadband and provide quality service with a reasonable cost to consumers,” said Gillett. “Under the current system, some areas gain support for multiple phone providers but no broadband is funded.”
Gillett went onto to explain that the transition period between the current Universal Service System and the Connect America Fund would see upheaval in the local markets but is necessary for the long-term health of the program.
According to Gilllet, the new Connect America Fund will not only bring service to consumers but also promote fiscal responsibility and install market-driven and incentive-based policies.