Genachowski Calls For 'Unleashing Spectrum' For Mobile Broadband At CES
January 7, 2011 at 3:29 PM (PT)
FCC Chairman JULIUS GENACHOWSKI called once again for "unleashing spectrum to support mobile innovation" in his speech TODAY at the CES in LAS VEGAS.
GENACHOWSKI, who largely stuck to the text of the speech released in advance of the appearance with the CEA's GARY SHAPIRO, called for support for his "National Broadband Plan" regulatory compromise, warning that the "This coming spectrum crunch is not just a real issue for the future of gadgets, not that there's anything wrong with worrying about that -- it's a vital strategic issue for the future of our economy and job creation, our global competitiveness, and our quality of life. Failure to tackle the spectrum challenge could have disastrous consequences. If we don't act, frustrated consumers will be forced to choose between lousy service and rising prices, driving down both the adoption and utility of mobile broadband in the U.S. If we don't act, we will put our country's economic competitiveness at risk ... We have to move, and we have to move faster than our global competitors."
In the speech, GENACHOWSKI outlined "four pillars" for the FCC's spectrum policy, including freeing spectrum for mobile broadband, encouraging more innovative and efficient uses of spectrum like "white spaces" deployment, driving widespread adoption of mobile broadband (especially in low-income and minority communities), and spurring deployment of wireless infrastructure. He also took time to push the "incentive auction" plan to encourage broadcasters to voluntarily combine digital operations and surrender their original channels to be auctioned for broadband use, substantially increasing his commentary on the issue in the delivered version of the speech from the original draft.
The CEA's GARY SHAPIRO told GENACHOWSKI that the organization is honoring him and the other FCC Commissioners with its Digital Patriots Award for their work on broadband and spectrum issues.
In a post-speech chat with SHAPIRO, GENACHOWSKI said that the Commission's position on the "open network" is to encourage competition and that "where there is insufficient competition, we have to act." On the "voluntary incentive auction," SHAPIRO asked why broadcasters should be paid to give up spectrum when they were "loaned" the spectrum for free in the first place, and GENACHOWSKI said that the payment plan was intended to get auctions in place quickly, perhaps in the next year or two if Congress grants authorization. The Commission, said GENACHOWSKI, is prepared to move quickly along with spectrum auctions as soon as approval is granted by Congress, and, he said, the Commission has begin to move forward with a structure for use in an auction process.
On the FCC's role in encouraging broadband deployment, GENACHOWSKI said that "so much of the economy" rests on the communications infrastructure, and the country needs a robust, competitive infrastructure. "It's not just that we'll be frustrated as consumers with slow speeds... that's bad," GENACHOWSKI said of what might happen if the Commission does not act, "but I think that the even bigger risk is that if we don't have a world-class infrastructure for mobile and broadband... we run the risk that the next generation of innovation... starts in another country and not here."
Addressing accessibility under the federal disabilities law, GENACHOWSKI praised the law and said the big opportunity is that while in the past accessibility issues came up after devices and technologies had already been developed, requiring retrofitting with great difficulty, the new law prompts developers to consider those issues during the development process. After SHAPIRO noted that the law might create another hurdle to innovation, GENACHOWSKI agreed that the issue is something "we need to work on."
Asked if the FCC should police intellectual property piracy by cracking down on devices that can be used for that purpose, GENACHOWSKI said that the issue is more a global one than a U.S. problem and "we see a lot more issues overseas than we do here."
Three Out Of Five FCC Commissioners Appear On Panel
Three of the other four FCC commissioners followed GENACHOWSKI's appearance with a panel of their own, discussing the Commission's regulatory agenda. (Commissioner MICHAEL COPPS was absent due to illness) The commissioners discussed retransmission disputes (MCDOWELL noted that the statute says a station merely asking for more money is not "bad faith"; BAKER said that the bulk of the disputes are about the relatively small local broadcast television market and the Commission's role is limited by Congress; CLYBURN said that most are handled before intervention is necessary); programming access limited to users of certain set-top boxes and software, a complaint of moderator and GOOGLE TV user ROB PEGORARO (which confused the panel, although BAKER voiced a preference for a competitive market solution and a preference for "more 'Modern Family' and less 'Wipeout'); CableCard and other TV tuning standards (CLYBURN said she is "hopeful" that standards can be developed, although BAKER disagreed and preferred to leave it to the market; MCDOWELL said that the 1996 law's definition of "navigation devices" did not anticipate the devices of today); spectrum policy (BAKER suggested redeploying NSS spectrum); competition in broadband; and more.
NAB, FCC Reps Debate Spectrum Issues
Spectrum policy is a major issue at CES, and a panel on the topic preceded GENACHOWSKI's appearance.
CORE CAPITAL PARTNERS Managing Director TOM WHEELER said that since there is no dispute that more spectrum is needed for mobile broadband, the issue is how broadcasters can continue with their future while some of the broadcast spectrum is repurposed for broadband. "There is a bright future for broadcasters who want to be entrepreneurial and there is a bright future for broadcasters who want to continue their linear must-carry operation," WHEELER said, saying that the question is what a broadcaster wants to do with the bandwidth over and above that needed for its primary television signal, raising the possibility of auctioning off the additional spectrum in an incentive auction. FCC Senior Advisor REBECCA HANSON said that the Commission believes it needs Congressional approval for incentive auctions, and that it hopes the new Congress will take a leadership role in that regard. She noted that the auction applies to license holders other than broadcasters as well and added that the incentive auction proposal will be entirely voluntary.
NAB SVP of Science and Technology LYNN CLAUDY warned that harm may befall broadcasters from the auction proposal. He likened the voluntary auction to "thinning the herd," channel sharing to "culling the herd," and reallocation to push the remaining broadcasters into a smaller slice of spectrum as "repacking the herd." On the auction, CLAUDY said that "there is not a long list of broadcasters signed up to do that... we don't know there's a lot of money to do that." Regarding channel sharing, he insisted, "Take away half the bits from a broadcaster... I'm not sure their long-range survival chances are good." And on repacking, CLAUDY noted that Canadian and Mexican border issues will cause problems, unless the channels are relocated to the low VHF band of channels 2-6 ("toxic beachfront"), which HANSON said the FCC is working on improving for digital use. CLAUDY said that he is concerned that as the industry needs more bandwidth for improved quality, the spectrum is being taken for other things, hurting the broadcasters' ability to compete.
"(These) policies were made in the analog age," said WHEELER, adding, "there has to be a revisiting of the rules," including allowing broadcasters to pursue more spectrum as well.
MICROSOFT Regulatory Counsel PAULA BOYD agreed that "there is a need for spectrum.... it's imperative tht we embrace the issue and try to find ways to resolve it." She said that she believes incentive auctions are part of the solution, but also said that smart radio technology to use unused "white spaces" will help.
Former Rep. RICK BOUCHER (D-VA) introduced the panel with a discussion of Congress' deliberations on spectrum issues, with the goal of finding ways to transfer spectrum for broadband use, whether by reallocation or by sharing.