Genachowski: Broadcast's Successful Past Could Impede Broadband's Successful Future

FCC chairman stumping for spectrum incentive auctions in speech to National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners
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FCC Chairman
Julius Genachowski was stumping for spectrum incentive auctions Monday in a speech
to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. He argued
that, ironically, the success of broadcasters
in the last century was proving to be some impediment to the rise of a
new communications platform, broadband, in this one.

Congress has
to give the FCC the authority to compensate broadcasters out of the
proceeds from the auction of broadcast spectrum reclaimed for wireless
broadband. The FCC will need that money if it
is to get broadcasters to volunteer to reduce their spectrum or give it
up entirely.

And that
auction incentive proposal is critical to freeing up the 500 Mhz of
spectrum for mobile wireless envisioned in the National Broadband Plan, Genachowski said. He pointed out that the Obama administration
has endorsed it. There are also bills in Congress supported by both
Democrats and Republicans that would authorize the auctions.

"It's time to
turn that support into law," Genachowski added. "The sooner incentive auction
legislation is adopted, the sooner we can unleash spectrum for mobile
broadband, and the sooner we'll see the benefits
to consumers and taxpayers, to our economy and our ability to lead the
world in 4G mobile. This is a choice between bringing market forces into
spectrum allocations, or keeping a status quo that is destined to harm
our global competitiveness and frustrate
mobile consumers."

According to
a copy of his prepared testimony, the chairman spoke of broadcasting
as a success story, but suggested it was last century's success and it
was time to look to a new future. Saying it
was something of an irony, he said that, "There are areas
where our country's success in the 20th century makes it harder to do
what's necessary in the 21st."

One of those, he said, was broadcasting and its use of spectrum.

"What
happened with broadcast spectrum in the 20th century was a remarkable
success," he said. "By opening up spectrum for commercial use, we made
it possible for entrepreneurs to create a large and
successful over-the-air broadcast TV industry that in turn helped
create our extraordinarily successful U.S. content industry, bringing
real benefits to our economy and beyond."

But the
underlying message was that viewers were moving away from broadcasting
to view that content on new platforms, ones that now needed some of the
spectrum broadcasters had used to build their
business. "Fast forward to today," he continued, and "Less than ten
percent of us - down from 100 percent - still get our television
programming from over-the-air broadcast transmissions.  Instead, people
watch TV through cable or satellite. The world has changed, but our
spectrum allocations still reflect the previous era."

The
chairman's remarks came the same day that the National
Telecommunications & Information Administration announced its
five-year and ten-year plans for reclaiming government and private
spectrum.
That includes the FCC's plan to get 125 Mhz from broadcasters by
incentivizing them--paying them--to give it up, or move to smaller
spectrum quarters, including possibly sharing. To make way for those
possibilities, the FCC plans to take a series of spectrum
actions at its Nov. 30 meeting, including rewriting the rules to allow
for channel sharing, to make the VHF band more attractive for the
broadcasters it want to relocate to lower channel numbers, and to allow
for greater experimentation with flexible spectrum
use.

Broadcasters
are willing to consider a voluntary system in which some broadcasters
participate, but the National Association of Broadcasters has also made
it clear if feels the industry is part of
the broadband and mobile video future of the 21st century.

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