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Debate on How to Free Up More Spectrum is Far From Over Debate on How to Free Up More Spectrum is Far From Over

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Debate on How to Free Up More Spectrum is Far From Over

The ink is barely dry on the spectrum legislation signed into law Wednesday by President Obama and experts already are saying more work is needed to ensure a steady stream of spectrum is available in the future.

Legislation included in the payroll tax cut package would free up more spectrum for wireless broadband by enticing broadcasters to give up some of their airwaves.

The legislation authorizes the Federal Communications Commission to conduct reverse auctions to see how much it would take to get broadcasters to give up some of their spectrum. Then it allows auctions of the airwaves broadcasters give up. The FCC has said it hopes to free up 120 megahertz from this process, an amount some say is overly optimistic.

Former Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., praised the passage of the legislation as an important step in providing more spectrum to meet the growing demand for wireless technologies such as smart phones and tablets. But he added that policymakers need to move quickly to free up spectrum now being used by federal agencies.

Wireless carriers failed to persuade Congress to include language in the spectrum legislation to re-purpose a chunk of spectrum now being used by the Defense Department. The administration last year committed to finding 500 megahertz of new spectrum for wireless broadband uses over the next decade, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which manages the nation's spectrum holdings, is in the process of trying to meet that goal.

"This is a continual process," said Boucher, who headed the House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee before losing re-election in 2010. He spoke during a spectrum event sponsored by TechAmerica. "Next on the block for auction to the wireless carriers will probably be re-purposed government spectrum. Don't know how quickly that will come but to meet the kinds of demands that we see with these predictions from the FCC for mobile data use, we're clearly going to need more spectrum."

Boucher echoed a call Wednesday by the former chief economist for the FCC, George Mason University law and economics professor Thomas Hazlett, for policymakers to give broadcasters and other spectrum holders flexibility in how they use their spectrum. Hazlett noted at a Hudson Institute event that while broadcasters do not have as much spectrum as they had in the 1950s, they are still required to stick by the over-the-air broadcasting business model set up during that time.

"I think it's more efficient to say 'here's spectrum for a period of time, use it for whatever is most economically efficient. If you would rather offer mobile phone service than broadcast, fine,'" Boucher said.

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