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FCC Forms Spectrum Task Force

Demand for mobile Internet access will outstrip supply 'by a lot'

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski has created a spectrum task force meant to advance the agency’s spectrum agenda and promote collaboration across the commission.

And while the chairman is focusing his efforts on finding spectrum to power broadband and mobile efforts, radio needs to pay attention because this is a clue to how the chairman views spectrum efficiency.

Julius Knapp, chief of the Office of Engineering Technology, and Ruth Milkman, chief of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, will co-chair the cross-agency working group. The heads of the Enforcement, International, Media and Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureaus, as well as the chief of the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, will participate.

The demand for mobile Internet access in the U.S. will soon outstrip the supply “by a lot,” Genachowski recently told broadcasters at the NAB show. To deliver mobile Internet access we need new technology and spectrum efficient policies, he said.

That’s when he launched into what he called myths about the FCC’s broadband plan, specifically the part that calls for re-purposing some of the TV spectrum. The spectrum issue, he said, won’t go away, because the demand for data on the Web won’t go away. He said the plan calls for recovery of 500 megahertz of spectrum over the next 10 years — from private and government users, including TV broadcasters. He said spectrum auctions would be voluntary and TV broadcasters would be given the option of channel-sharing.

When Genachowski began getting into the nitty-gritty of the TV spectrum issue, I began to see why the traditional chairman’s event at the NAB Show had gone from a breakfast to an event of one hour at best. After some initial polite applause as he came to the podium, I didn’t hear any more for the rest of the event, until after Genachowski left the stage and NAB’s Gordon Smith came back out, explaining the chairman had to leave to get back to Washington and prepare to testify to Congress. It was eerie, considering this was Genachowski’s first address to attendees at the show as chairman. Presumably the quiet was a measure of the chilly reception that most broadcasters are giving to the idea of any spectrum giveback, even if it is voluntary.

I agree with the chairman that the spectrum issue isn’t going away. To me, the issue of how spectrum is used and by whom — and what changes could be made to change that balance — will be one of the defining issues of Genachowski’s tenure as chairman.