WASHINGTON March 14, 2011 – The Media Access Project, a public interest law firm specializing in telecommunications matters, brought together leading industry experts Friday to explore issues surrounding potential spectrum auctions.
The goal of the proposed auctions is to free up spectrum for use by mobile broadband. The spectrum would come from that which is currently owned by television broadcasters who voluntarily gave up part of their licensed bandwidth for monetary compensation. The Federal Communications Commission estimates that only 10 percent of the population still watches over-the-air broadcast television. Many broadcasters, however, oppose the plan and are reluctant to give up their even part of their currently licensed spectrum.
“The U.S. is falling behind in providing spectrum for innovation and mobile broadband,” said Chris Guttman-McCabe, Vice President of Government Affairs at CTIA – The Wireless Association. “Japan is offering up 400 megahertz (MHz) of new spectrum while the UK is offering 500 MHz for new uses.”
Guttman-McCabe went on to support the idea of voluntary broadcast spectrum auctions, calling them necessary to prevent a spectrum crisis.
“Voluntary auctions will work as long current spectrum owners are compensated and given a fair market price.” he said.
Jim Goodmon, CEO of Capital Broadcasting Company, presented a contradictory view of the need for auctions. Goodman stated that while broadcasters support the Obama administration’s National Broadband Plan and want to provide more broadband they are unwilling to give up their spectrum. He estimated that nearly 30 percent of people still rely on over-the-air broadcast. Goodmon then went onto highlight the the importance of over-the-air broadcasts during emergencies, calling them “a crucial mechanism for the dispersal of information.”
“Mobile broadband providers need spectrum to deploy video, but they don’t have the best technology for it. Broadcasters are able to deploy much more video using fewer transmitters using current multi-point technology.” He said.
Goodman also suggested that mobile handset makers install broadcast chips in their products to allow consumers to watch broadcast television.
“Currently broadcasters must pay the government a percentage of revenue if they use their spectrum for non-broadcast purposes,” Goodmon pointed out. “If we start using the spectrum to deploy new products, the government would get more money over a longer period of time.”
Goodman also asked that the industry be given time to develop new technologies that can improve efficiencies. The recent move to digital from analog took years to engineer and the industry needs time to improve the digital broadcasting.
Jane Mago, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, National Association of Broadcasters, echoed the sentiment of Goodmon in part.
“We are not opposed to voluntary auctions,” said Mago, “but we do need to ensure current consumers are not deprived access.”
Michael Calabrese, Director of the Wireless Future Project at the New America Foundation asserted that while auctions would provide new spectrum for mobile broadband, there is also a need to protect the unlicensed spectrum.
Significant innovation occurs in the unlicensed spectrum since these are nationwide bands which can be used by anyone without having to pay for an expensive license . Wi-Fi and Bluetooth both work on unlicensed bands. Many mobile broadband providers are actually embracing Wi-Fi hotspots as a way of offloading internet traffic, Calabrese added.
Alan Norman, Principal, Business and Operations Strategy, Access Team, Google, reiterated the need to preserve unlicensed spectrum. Currently Google’s super Wi-Fi project, which can transmit a signal for miles, is running using the unlicensed bands . “Unlicensed spectrum is necessary for creating innovative devices” Norman said, by having devices run on these bands manufacturers do not have to adhere to strict technical guidelines.