FCC Takes First Step Toward Reallocating TV Spectrum

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The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has taken the first steps toward reallocating spectrum controlled by television stations to mobile broadband services.

The FCC on Tuesday voted to release a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that would allow TV stations to voluntarily give up their unused spectrum, presumably for a share of the proceeds when the FCC sells the spectrum at auction. The NPRM also proposes ways to enable TV stations to share channels, allowing more spectrum to be freed up for other uses.

In an NPRM, the FCC proposes new rules and seeks public comment. The new NPRM asks for comments on how freed-up TV spectrum should be allocated to fixed and mobile wireless services.

The efforts to free up spectrum for mobile broadband will help the U.S. avert a predicted spectrum shortage, said Julius Genachowski, the FCC's chairman. Newly available spectrum will improve the U.S. economy and create jobs, he added.

"We are at an inflection point with our invisible infrastructure," he said. "The explosive growth in mobile communications threatens to outpace the infrastructure on which it relies. If we don't act to update our spectrum policies for the 21st century, we're going to run into a wall -- a spectrum crunch -- that will stifle American innovation and economic growth and cost us the opportunity to lead the world in mobile communications."

Without new spectrum, mobile users will be "forced to choose between poor service and higher prices," he added.

The FCC's national broadband plan, released in March, recommended that the agency reallocate spectrum from the TV bands. The National Association of Broadcasters, a trade group representing TV stations, initially opposed the proposal, but NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith said Tuesday the trade group wouldn't oppose reallocation if it's voluntary.

"NAB has no quarrel with incentive auctions that are truly voluntary," Smith said in a statement. "Going forward, we believe policymakers have an obligation to maintain digital TV services currently provided by broadcasters and to allow free TV viewers to benefit from [digital] video innovations."

CTIA, a trade group representing mobile carriers, and Public Knowledge, a digital rights group, praised the FCC's actions. The NPRM is an "important step to ensuring that we can meet America's growing demand for mobile Internet access at anytime and anywhere," Steve Largent, CTIA's president and CEO, said in a statement.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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