FCC Looks to Clear the Air(Waves)

The FCC unveiled yet another ambitious plan for the future of broadband in America, issuing a proposal to reallocate and auction off portions of the wireless spectrum currently assigned for broadcast television use.

The FCC is pulling out all the stops with bold plans to modernize American broadband.
Alluding to the drama and prestige of the Winter Olympics--currently underway in Vancouver--Julius Genachowski said in an FCC statement "When you get your chance, you better make it count, because you don't know when, or if, you'll get another shot. With this Plan, we have a special opportunity to lay a foundation for American leadership in the 21st century."

The plan revealed by the FCC includes an opportunity for current licensees of unused or underused broadcast spectrum ranges to return them in exchange for a cut of the auction proceeds. There may be some legislative hurdles to jump in order to pave the way for that sort of profit-sharing arrangement, but providing incentive to drive freeing up spectrum for broadband is the sort of "out of the box" thinking required to get things kickstarted.

Genachowski stressed "Vital elements of the Commission's charter are to ensure that, in exercising our responsibilities with respect to spectrum, we promote competition and ensure that spectrum use is in the public interest, and of course all spectrum policy decisions will be made with that in mind."

With a growing segment of Americans receiving their television signal from cable or satellite sources rather than broadcasts over the airwaves, and a spike in demand for wireless broadband, it would seem that the public interest is certainly served by reallocating that broadcast spectrum and putting it to use for emerging technologies rather than dying ones.

It is a bold plan from an increasingly bold FCC--struggling to drive progress and adapt the US communications infrastructure to keep pace with the demands of Americans while fending off attacks from the GOP and major communications providers that claim the FCC is overstepping its charter.

The FCC has been placed in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" position. If it does nothing and lets broadband providers dictate the pace of investment and innovation, the FCC will take the heat for not leading the way and providing some oversight. If it pushes forward with ambitious plans to enforce net neutrality and expand the scope and speed of broadband access in America, the FCC will continue to come under fire from lobbyists and special interests that don't appreciate the government meddling in their affairs.

It is a pivotal moment in time for the United States--lagging behind other modern nations in broadband availability and speed, and with broadband data demand growing exponentially each year. In addition to the spectrum reallocation plan to meet the wireless broadband needs, the FCC has also proposed a goal of 100 million Americans with 100-Mbps broadband access by 2020 for wired broadband.

Businesses are increasingly relying on mobile devices like smartphones and netbooks, and emerging products like smartbooks and tablet PC's, and wireless broadband capacity is critical to the future of communications. Faster broadband access also helps businesses with things like real-time collaboration, and video conferencing.

Genachowski's opening statement sums it up "One thing is clear. It typically takes quite some time from the beginning to end of a Commission strategic spectrum reallocation process. But the clock is ticking on our country's mobile broadband leadership opportunity and our global competitiveness challenge, and we have to get started."

Tony Bradley is co-author of Unified Communications for Dummies . He tweets as @Tony_BradleyPCW , and can be contacted at his Facebook page .

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