The Federal Communications Commission is making progress in its effort to free up 500MHz of additional wireless spectrum by 2020, but much work is still needed in order for the FCC to meet its goal.
On Tuesday, the commission approved rules that would free up 40MHz of satellite spectrum that had been allocated for satellite use to be used for wireless broadband service. And it also moved forward with setting up an auction next year for 10MHz of wireless spectrum in the PCS H block. The H Block spectrum that will be auctioned off sits next to the satellite spectrum that was repurposed for wireless broadband.
"The FCC has removed outdated regulations and granted terrestrial flexibility for most of the AWS-4 band," Jeff Blum, Dish's senior vice president and deputy general counsel, said in a statement. "The commission has taken an important step toward facilitating wireless competition and innovation, and fulfilling the goals of the National Broadband Plan."
On Wednesday morning, the five FCC commissioners testified in front of a congressional subcommittee about the upcoming incentive spectrum auction. Earlier this year, Congress passed legislation giving the FCC authority to conduct spectrum auctions that will allow TV broadcasters to voluntarily give up spectrum and share in the proceeds.
In September, the FCC put forth a proposal and is now seeking comment on the rules for the incentive auction. The auction is complicated because it requires TV broadcasters to give up spectrum for which they will share the proceeds from a second auction in which the government will sell spectrum to parties interested in building wireless broadband services.
The auction, which was part of the middle-class tax relief legislation from earlier this year, is not only meant to free up additional spectrum, which can be used to fuel growth of new networks, but it's also intended to generate revenue for the U.S. Treasury as well as help fund the construction of a nationwide public safety network.
House Republicans have been concerned that the auction won't generate enough revenue to achieve its revenue goals. Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai also has expressed concern regarding the ability to make enough money from the auctions to both pay for the public safety network and provide revenue for the government.
"September's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking appears to envision an auction that will yield no net revenues," he said in his testimony. "Most of the problem stems from the structure of the proposed auction."
He said he is most concerned with the structure of the auctions. But some House Republicans have also expressed concern over the fact that some spectrum will not be sold at all and will be given away for unlicensed use. Specifically, they take issue with the FCC's proposal for including what these lawmakers consider to be large "guard bands," which will not be auctioned.
These "guard bands" are meant to protect license holders from interference. And FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski says they are an engineering necessity. The proposal also calls for spectrum within these guard bands to be used for unlicensed use, something Genachowski says is important for spurring future innovation.
Democratic leaders in the House have been defending the FCC's position when it comes to guard bands.
"The proposed rulemaking adopted recognizes that nationwide guard bands needed for interference protection can simultaneously provide unlicensed access, ensuring that every megahertz of spectrum is used efficiently," Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) said in her statement at the hearing. "Simply put, nowhere in the Act does it require the FCC to auction guard bands. And as the title of today's hearing reflects, this subcommittee has a responsibility to keep the new broadband spectrum law on track. Attempts to rewrite the law through the rulemaking process should be rejected by the commission and will only serve to delay the release of new spectrum."
The FCC commissioners said they are still receiving comment on their proposal for the incentive auction, which is not scheduled to take place until the middle of 2014. In other words, there is plenty of time to work out the details.