Finding new radio bandwidth for mobile broadband services and then figuring out how to pry it out of the hands of businesses and government agencies that don’t use it particularly well is a perpetual challenge for the FCC. Four commissioners – the whole bunch except for chair Tom Wheeler – took questions from CTIA president Meredith Baker at the CTIA show in Las Vegas this afternoon. Not surprisingly, given the venue, much of the hour-long session focused on moving twentieth century technologies and analog users off of spectrum, particularly in the coveted 600 MHz bands, to make way for twenty-first century digital services.
The most readily available sources are television broadcasters and the federal government, particularly but not exclusively the department of defence. As described by the commissioners today, that problem boils down to getting federal agencies to do two things they don’t do well at all: move quickly and give assets they’ve held for decades back to the public.
The more immediate opportunity is to buy back TV channel assignments from broadcasters who want to sell, via an auction. The hope was that would happen about a year from now, but it seems less likely now. The National Association of Broadcasters, like CTIA an industry lobbying arm, is suing to stop the auction as currently planned, the result of a lack of enthusiasm for the auctions among their members.
As commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel put it, to bring broadcasters back to the table, the FCC has to make it simple for them to participate and others – the wireless industry and the internal revenue service, particularly – need to make it easy for them to make a business decision. Wireless operators have to give broadcasters a better sense of how much money they stand to make, and the IRS has to let them know what the tax consequences are before they sell channel slots. The alternative is to wait for the federal courts to chew through the issues involved, a process that could take years.