"The demand for our airwaves is going up and the supply
of unencumbered spectrum is going down. The pressure is on." That was part
of the message of FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel at a Silicon Flatirons
conference on spectrum in Washington on Tuesday, according to a copy of her
The other part of that message was how to relieve that
pressure for spectrum. Those included the upcoming incentive auctions of
commercial spectrum as well as incentivizing government spectrum users to give up
or share some of their spectrum by letting them share in the re-auction
proceeds, as commercial broadcasters have an opportunity to do. She said all
those auctions should be on a timeline, adding: "Speed matters."
Rosenworcel planned to tell her audience that it would take
innovation in a variety of forms to get the job done, including smart antennas,
frequency-agile receivers, changes in network deployment, including the promise
of small cells. It will take creative spectrum policy, she said, including the
most obvious example -- the FCC's upcoming spectrum incentive auctions, which
she said must be guided by four principles: simplicity, fairness, balance and
She said simplicity will be crucial to generating interest
from broadcasters. In that she was echoing the sentiments of Gary Epstein,
senior adviser and co-lead of the FCC's Incentive Auction Task Force, who
has said that the goal is to have the complexity "under the
Fairness, she said, includes minimizing viewer and broadcaster
disruptions for those TV stations repacked into smaller space to make room for
wireless broadband. "At the same time, we ask that broadcasters make a
fair assessment of the opportunities that this auction provides the
The speech came the same day that Preston Padden, former
broadcast executive and currently senior fellow at the Silicon Flatirons Center
in Colorado, announced
a new coalition of broadcasters who might be willing to sell so long as the
auction is set up correctly.
She suggested there were reasons why some broadcasters
should be willing to consider giving up spectrum, which does not necessarily
mean getting out of the business. "By offering incentives to share
channels and incentives to relocate from the UHF to VHF band," she said,
"this auction can mean new resources for broadcasters to develop new
programming and deploy new services. Let us also be creative here -- and
consider how this process can yield new models for station ownership, new
funding sources for local content, and new ways to use technology to make
efficient use of our airwaves."
Some broadcasters, pointing to their one-to-many
architecture, have pointed out they could provide a way to offload cellular
traffic during peak periods, for example.
Balance includes understanding that interference protections
will affect how much spectrum will be available for auction, and how much
revenue can be raised, she said. While the FCC initially targeted 120 MHz, it
is no longer talking exact figures.
Public safety is an issue Rosenworcel has been intimately
involved with. As a top telecom adviser to the Senate Commerce Committee, she
worked with chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) on the legislation establishing
the auctions, part of whose proceeds go toward building and maintaining an
interoperable broadband emergency communications network. "We must not
forget that the success of these auctions requires meeting this funding
objective -- and delivering on our promise to America's first responders,"
As to getting spectrum back from federal users, Rosenworcel
said that there needed to be a combination of reclamation and sharing, but that
between calls for sticking with the reclamation model and others for widespread
sharing, both of which she said were worth exploring for the "long
haul," there needs to be a short-term approach that will make repurposing
easier and expedite sharing. That would be to provide financial rewards to
agencies to use spectrum more efficiently.
"What if they were able to reclaim a portion of the
revenue from the subsequent re-auction of their airwaves? Would they make
new choices about their missions and the resources they need to accomplish
them? I think so. I believe this is an idea worth exploring."
Rosenworcel also said the public deserved an accounting by
the FCC of the resiliency of its network infrastructure. "By choosing
wireless and IP networks, we are choosing to go without the independent
electrical source that traditionally powered copper plant. I do not believe we
should sacrifice safety in the process," she said.
"[T]he time to have this conversation is now. Before we
have another rash of headlines like we just saw: â€˜Post-Sandy Wireless
Outages Add Insult to Injury' and 'Sandy Exposes Gaps in Wireless System During
Emergency.' We need to make progress before the next storm hits, the next
disaster devastates, and the next network-related outage leaves us vulnerable