Friday, March 22, 2013

FCC Preserves the Path for Future Spectrum Auctions

On March 20, Chairman Julius Genachowski sent a letter notifying NTIA that the FCC "plans to commence the auction of licenses in the 1695-1710 MHz band and the 1755-1780 MHz band as early as September 2014." The Chairman's letter also expresses that the FCC's will perhaps pair that band with the 2155-2180 MHz band. This is a positive step forward in the FCC's ongoing effort to prepare additional spectrum for commercial use on both a licensed and unlicensed basis.

As the Chairman's letter explains, the Jobs Act requires the Commission to notify NTIA at least 18 months prior to the commencement of any auction of eligible frequencies. Congress also gave the FCC until February 2015 to auction the 1695-1710 and 2155-2180 MIHz bands. Wrote the Chairman: "we include the 1755-1780 MHz band in this notice to preserve the possibility of auctioning it with the 2155-2180 MHz band."

The Chairman's letter acknowledged an NTIA advisory committee's proposal for repurposing some of the spectrum at issue from federal government use to shared governmental and commercial use. But that proposal is not set in stone. Accordingly, spectrum policymakers should make all possible efforts to prefer licensing of spectrum on an exclusive basis over commercial sharing arrangements with government agencies.
Applauding Chairman Genachowski's letter, Commissioner Ajit Pai drove this point home in a public statement: "I continue to believe that we should aim to clear and reallocate the 1755–1780 MHz band rather than forcing federal users and commercial operators to undertake the complicated, untested task of spectrum sharing."

In a Perspectives from FSF Scholars paper from earlier this month, I acknowledged the importance of making unlicensed spectrum available for suitable bands. But at the same time, I concluded that licensing spectrum for exclusive commercial use is far better than spectrum sharing arrangements between governmental and commercial users:
Putting repurposed spectrum to its highest commercial use calls for heavy investment by carriers in next-generation wireless broadband networks. The certainty and incentives required for such multi-billion dollar investments are best supplied by spectrum licenses for exclusive use. Arrangements for the private sector and government agencies to share spectrum might be a useful transition tool. But proposals for such sharing now appear prevalent enough that, if adopted, they would undermine the goal of the current undertaking to repurpose spectrum.