The Federal Communications Commission is putting too much focus on efforts to get broadcasters to give up some their spectrum and not enough on finding ways to use existing spectrum more efficientlyy, a Senate aide and broadcast industry officials said on Thursday.
With the growing demand for wireless broadband, the wireless industry, tech companies, and others have been calling on the federal government to free up more spectrum.
Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Commerce Communication Subcommittee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., have introduced legislation to produce a comprehensive approach to managing the nation’s spectrum by examining how it is used now and promoting technologies that make it more efficient.
Matthew Hussey, a telecom aide to Snowe, said the senator is concerned that the FCC is focusing too much attention on its incentive auctions proposal at the expense of other ways to free spectrum.
Snowe, a senior member of the Commerce Committee, outlined her concerns in a letter to the FCC late last month, asking for details on how incentive auctions would work.
The FCC’s incentive auction plan, which requires congressional approval, aims to entice broadcasters to give up some of their spectrum to be auctioned, in exchange for a share of the proceeds. Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has introduced a public-safety spectrum bill that would authorize the auctions. His committee is expected to take up the bill before the end of the month.
“The concern [that Snowe] has is, if we just continue to focus on incentive auctions, we may fall short in providing the sweep of tools that the FCC and [the National Telecommunications and Information Administration] need to address the problem,” Hussey told a panel discussion at the Brookings Institution.
Snowe has been pushing the FCC to complete a comprehensive inventory of the spectrum being used now – a call echoed by broadcasters. An inventory would assist efforts to improve the nation’s management of spectrum, Hussey said.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has argued that a more in-depth inventory is unnecessary and unlikely to find any new chunks of spectrum. “There is no big swath of unused spectrum that we’ve missed," he told broadcasters last month at their annual convention.
Broadcasters have said they are open to incentive auctions as long as they are truly voluntary and broadcasters that opt out are not harmed in the process. They say much more work and data are required on ways to more efficiently use the spectrum now available to wireless operators.
Uzoma Onyeije, a telecom consultant and a former FCC official, said that a study he conducted for the National Association of Broadcasters found that the FCC’s and wireless industry’s claims of a looming spectrum shortage are overblown. “We can’t have discussions about demand without talking about supply,” he said.
Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs for the wireless-industry group CTIA, argued that it’s “silly” to suggest there isn’t a spectrum shortage, given the explosive demand for wireless services. Calls for more extensive inventories are part of NAB’s strategy to delay action on incentive auctions, he added. “In Washington, D.C., we tend to have paralysis by analysis.”