IDG News Service - The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will seek to take back 120MHz of spectrum from U.S. television stations in the next five years and reallocate it to wireless broadband providers in a voluntary program that would allow the stations to share or keep spectrum auction revenues, under a national broadband plan that will be officially released Tuesday.
The FCC would seek approval from Congress to conduct "incentive auctions" of unused spectrum, including TV spectrum, and the agency could either act as a third-party auctioneer of the spectrum or share the auction proceeds with the sellers, according to the broadband plan, which the FCC released to reporters Monday.
The TV spectrum auctions are part of a goal to free up 500MHz of spectrum for wireless broadband over the next decade, one of the major goals of the 400-page broadband plan. If, however, the FCC doesn't get enough volunteers to free up spectrum, it will look for other ways to take back the spectrum, but FCC officials said Monday they expect to get enough TV stations to give up their extra spectrum in exchange for auction proceeds.
Only a few TV stations in major markets will need to turn over their spectrum in order for the FCC to meet its spectrum goals, an FCC official said.
The TV spectrum is sometimes called "beachfront property" for wireless broadband because of its ability to carry signals long distances and penetrate buildings and other obstacles. "Enabling the reallocation of this spectrum to broadband use in a way that would not harm consumers overall has the potential to create new economic growth and investment opportunities with limited potential impact on broadcast business models," the broadband plan said.
Under current rules, TV stations can sell their broadcast licenses or lease spectrum to other organizations for other uses. But spectrum leasing hasn't proven popular, because wireless broadband providers need more than a 6MHz band of spectrum in one TV market to provide a sustainable service, said one FCC official, speaking on background.
Unused broadcast spectrum could be worth up to $50 billion, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said during a recent briefing. About 300MHz of spectrum is set aside for broadcast TV, but in TV markets with fewer than 1 million people, about 36MHz are typically used for broadcasting, and even in the largest TV markets, only about half of the broadcast spectrum is used, he said.
The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), representing U.S. TV stations, pledged to work with the FCC on the broadband plan, but a spokesman said the plan raises concerns.
"We were pleased by initial indications from FCC members that any spectrum reallocation would be voluntary, and were therefore prepared to move forward in a constructive fashion on that basis," said Dennis Wharton, NAB's executive vice president. "However, we are concerned by reports today that suggest many aspects of the plan may in fact not be as voluntary as originally promised. Moreover, as the nation's only communications service that is free, local and ubiquitous, we would oppose any attempt to impose onerous new spectrum fees on broadcasters."
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