FCC Chairman Urges Action on Spectrum Auctions

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Julius Genachowski, chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, used his time on stage at the Consumer Electronics Show Wednesday to warn that if Congress doesn't let the agency move forward with its plans to free up more wireless spectrum, it risks damaging the economy into the future.

The FCC has asked Congress for the authority to stage so-called voluntary spectrum auctions, in which broadcasters could decide to give up their spectrum in exchange for part of the proceeds of the auction. "My message today is simple. We need to get it done now and we need to get it done right," he said. "Few areas hold more promise for creating jobs than mobile."

He warned that without access to spectrum, both licensed and unlicensed, companies and entrepreneurs will turn to other countries to build their innovative technologies. "If we don't authorize incentive auctions, we'll get swamped by an ocean of demand and risk losing the competitive advantage to lead the world in innovation," he said.

While he said there's broad support for the incentive auctions in Congress, there are two sticking points. One proposal being considered in Congress would remove some FCC flexibility in managing the auction, and the other would prevent the FCC from designating any new spectrum as unlicensed.

The FCC has overseen 80 auctions, after setting a worldwide precedent for doing so, and needs to continue to have the flexibility to do so, he said. In addition, blocking more unlicensed spectrum would prevent innovations similar to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which both run on unlicensed bands, he said.

On Monday, a group of senators asked their colleagues to give the FCC the authority it is asking for.

Genachowski urged lawmakers to listen to their advice. "The costs for inaction and incorrect action are enormous," he said.

Genachowski touched on a few other issues that have faced the FCC recently. Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of CEA, pressed him to comment on the vague laws that led AT&T to erroneously suppose its bid for T-Mobile might go through. But Genachowski wouldn't say much on the topic. The system in the U.S. for monitoring antitrust has been essentially the same for 60 to 70 years and on balance has worked, he said.

Shapiro also asked Genachowski what he might plan to do should he lose his job after the upcoming presidential elections. Genachowski was vague but said he feels an obligation, set in place by his father, to give back to the community. His father was an immigrant to the U.S. and for his master's thesis at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology wrote about a device that could help blind people read words on paper. Learning from his father, Genachowski also wants to work to harness technology in ways that can improve people's lives. "I don't think there's a better mission," he said.

Nancy Gohring covers mobile phones and cloud computing for The IDG News Service. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @idgnancy. Nancy's e-mail address is Nancy_Gohring@idg.com

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