The Federal Communications Commission has approved a wide-reaching plan designed to repurpose the public airwaves now used for broadcast television. The New York Times reports that the panel unanimously approved a preliminary proposal to reclaim spectrum from broadcasters and sell it off for use in wireless broadband networks.
A portion of the proceeds from the sales would be returned to broadcasters.
“The initiative, which the FCC said would be the first in which any government would pay to reclaim public airwaves with the intention of selling them, would help satisfy what many industry experts say is booming demand for wireless Internet capacity,” the story reports. “Mobile broadband traffic will increase more than thirtyfold by 2015, the commission estimates. Without additional airwaves to handle the traffic, officials say, consumers will face more dropped calls, connection delays and slower downloads of data.”
The FCC is expected to release a proposal detailing the program next week, outlining rules for what it calls incentive auctions. The panel will take public comments on the issue during the next few months.
Before the vote, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said: “In this flat, competitive world, capital and talent can flow anywhere. We’re in a global bandwidth race. It’s similar to the space race in that success will unleash waves of innovation that will go a long way toward determining who leads our global economy in the 21st century.”
The Times adds: “The auctions are not expected until 2014, but commission officials and Congress have estimated that the process could generate $15 billion in proceeds. About $7 billion of that would be set aside to build a nationwide emergency communications network for public safety officials, a yet-unfulfilled recommendation of the 9/11 Commission.”
Wireless companies, Internet trade groups and telecommunications experts are reportedly among those who are happy about the proposal. On the other side of the equation are TV broadcasters — most of them want to keep their airwaves, and they have disputed the notion that a spectrum shortage is impending.
“Industry lobbyists note that broadcasters gave up significant amounts of airwaves several years ago in the conversion of television signals to digital from analog format,” the report notes. “That spectrum was auctioned in 2008, with no compensation to broadcasters, and industry officials grumble that many of the buyers of those airwaves have not used them yet.”