The Federal Communications Commission opened a formal proceeding Wednesday to get feedback on whether it should reclaim some spectrum licenses held by TV broadcasters and auction them off to wireless broadband providers.
The public comment notice issued by the FCC is the first step in a process that could pit TV broadcasters against the FCC and the wireless industry.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a speech earlier in the week that he is interested in taking back some of these airwaves to re-auction them for use in building new wireless broadband services.
Broadcasters oppose a plan under which they'd give up any spectrum licenses, saying that it would harm some Americans' access to free over-the-air TV programming. But some FCC officials, such as Blair Levin, who is in charge of drafting a policy plan for national broadband, argue that some of this spectrum is not being used efficiently or effectively. The idea is that the spectrum could be better used for providing 4G wireless services.
Spectrum that is used by broadcasters is considered ideal because it transmits signals over long distances and can penetrate through walls. Using it to build wireless broadband services would mean that service providers do not have to put radios on as many towers, which saves money when building networks and increases the reach of a network.
The most recent spectrum auction sold licenses for the 700MHz band of spectrum, which had been used to transmit analog TV signals. The FCC re-auctioned this spectrum after Congress mandated that all major TV broadcasters shift to broadcasting digital signals rather analog signals. Verizon Communications was one of the major winners in the 700MHz auction. And its wireless division, Verizon Wireless, is using the spectrum to build its 4G next-generation wireless network, which is expected to go live in some markets starting in 2010.
As more Americans use Internet-connected wireless devices, such as smartphones, and ultra portable devices, such as e-readers and Netbooks, the current allocation for wireless services is becoming saturated. Chairman Genachowski warned in his speech that without more spectrum dedicated to wireless broadband services, the nation faces a crisis that could stifle innovation.
The FCC will accept public comment on this issue until December 21.