White House backs FCC plan to add airwaves for mobile broadband

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

White House backs FCC plan to add airwaves for mobile broadband

The Obama administration announced Monday that it will double the amount of airwaves available for mobile broadband to meet the demands of smartphones and other increasingly popular wireless gadgets.

Over the next decade, President Obama pledged to make available 500 megahertz of radiowaves for high-speed wireless carriers. The commitment backs a proposal by the Federal Communications Commission to auction off broadcasters' and government spectrum to commercial carriers that envision their networks running such things as tablet computers to home appliances.

National Economic Council Director Lawrence H. Summers said in a speech outlining the plan that freeing up more spectrum will spur economic growth through auctions of the airwaves and investment in wireless networks and technology.

Summers said the auction proceeds will go toward a wireless network for emergency first responders as well as projects such as high-speed light rail. The federal government is looking at several agencies, including the Defense Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for spectrum, as well as TV broadcasters.

It could be years before those airwaves are available, and pursuading broadcasters to give up spectrum has been a challenge. The FCC has proposed that 280 megahertz of spectrum come from broadcasters and other sources, 120 of which would come from broadcasters. The other 220 megahertz would come from the federal government's holdings, which are managed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Dennis Wharton, vice president of the National Association of Broadcasters, said broadcasters are willing to work constructively with regulators on federal spectrum plans. But he called for the government to focus first on fallow airwaves, as opposed to those held by broadcasters who want to use spectrum for mobile television.

"The first priority of Congress ought to be passage of spectrum inventory legislation that identifies fallow spectrum or companies that may be 'warehousing' the airwaves," Wharton said.

Summers said the White House will work with Congress to pass legislation to auction television broadcasters' spectrum that will also allow broadcasters to share in the proceeds. And broadcasters won't be forced to sell spectrum, he said.

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