By definition, virtually every wireless technology in use today depends on radio waves. Whether it’s for Wi-Fi, cell-phone calls, or satellite TV, the radio spectrum transports signals from source to destination quickly and efficiently.
But, like an interstate highway, there are limits to how crowded the channels can get—which is why the Federal Communications Commission plans to clear things up a bit next year.
The idea is to encourage some TV broadcasters to give up their portions of the airwaves and to repurpose that reclaimed spectrum for high-speed Internet. While the FCC is charged with administering the reallocation, House Energy and Commerce Committee members will be closely overseeing the process. Last year, the committee helped make spectrum issues a key part of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012.
Under that law, the government will buy spectrum from TV companies looking to move in new directions. The FCC will then turn around and do three things: First, it will take a cut of those auction revenues and use it to pay down the national debt. Second, it will set aside some reclaimed spectrum for noncommercial use, a boon for technologies like Wi-Fi that are freely available for public use. Third, the FCC will sell the remaining spectrum to wireless carriers, enabling them to upgrade voice and data services for their paying customers.
It sounds simple. But as committee staff explained, the precise rules of the auction are still under intense negotiation. For example, it’s not yet clear how a starting price for spectrum will be set, if at all. Nor is it known what the breakdown will be between licensed spectrum—the portion to be sold to wireless companies—and unlicensed spectrum that will be reserved for public access.
How these questions get resolved will have a major impact on the number of businesses that ultimately participate in the auction, Republicans say.
This article appears in the April 18, 2013, edition of NJ Daily as Committee Will Watch Spectrum Auction Closely.