Incentive auction will transform spectrum policy

Connectivity is a powerful thing.  It’s the joy in a grandmother’s face when video-chatting with her grandson.  It’s the relief from a text message that your teenager returned safely from prom, and the hope of a homebound patient experiencing quality medical care from afar.  And thanks to America’s world-leading 4G networks and over 350 million mobile subscribers across the country, nothing connects us better than wireless. 

But there’s a catch.  Our connected life means more data is flowing across our wireless networks.  Mobile data traffic grew more than 1,000 percent between 2010 and 2014.  Exploding consumer demand and the emerging Internet of Things mean another six-fold increase by the end of the decade.  The wireless community is investing billions in infrastructure and technologies, but to keep up with future mobile growth, we need more spectrum.  

The good news is that in just a few months, the Federal Communications Commission will begin the world’s first-ever incentive auction.  This auction will provide television broadcasters the opportunity to repurpose their airwaves for mobile broadband – providing a down payment on the ability of wireless providers and manufacturers to continue America’s 4G global leadership and help set the stage for 5G, the next generation of wireless. 

From the beginning, CTIA has proudly worked with policymakers, broadcasters, and the wireless industry to shape the auction and maximize the benefits consumers will receive. 

From concept to reality.  The incentive auction represents a historic test case for using market dynamics to spectrum policy.  CTIA’s call for this new spectrum allocation tool was first included in the FCC’s National Broadband Plan and ultimately adopted by Congress in 2012.  Since then, we worked tirelessly with the FCC and in the courts to ensure a timely and effective auction – a complex and difficult undertaking that came with no pre-existing roadmap. 

We are now poised to see this dream become a reality.  Starting today, broadcast television licensees can file their initial applications to participate in the auction, and wireless providers will file applications to bid for the right to purchase spectrum starting in January 2016.  On March 29, 2016, the auction will begin. 

Broadcasters’ once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  The incentiveauction represents a historic opportunity:  the first time broadcasters will be able to convert their spectrum to use for wireless broadband.  Unlike prior spectrum auctions, wireless providers must meet the price necessary for broadcasters to voluntarily relinquish spectrum, rather than bidding on spectrum previously cleared for mobile services.  CTIA also helped fund the nation’s first channel sharing pilot project, successfully demonstrating the viability of channel sharing between two broadcast television stations and giving broadcasters a new option to make spectrum available while remaining on the air. 

A framework to facilitate U.S. leadership.  In addition, CTIA has fought to maximize the amount and utility of the spectrum freed up at the auction for wireless providers.  We have pushed for unencumbered access to the auctioned spectrum, the use of modern software for interference modeling, and band plans that organize the airwaves efficiently. 

From securing the information necessary for potential bidders to make informed auction decisions to ensuring ample opportunities for participants to experience the bidding system before the auction goes live, CTIA has engaged in the nuts-and-bolts throughout this process. Even now, we continue to work to ensure winning bidders will be able to build out their spectrum as soon as possible while creating a predictable transition for broadcasters remaining on the air.  Each of these successes helps create an auction framework that will inform national and international spectrum policy in the future. 

The administration, Congress, and the FCC all deserve commendation for their leadership to craft the policy bedrock for the incentive auction.  CTIA is proud to have played a key role in these efforts and looks forward to a successful auction in 2016 that will unlock spectrum for a new round of mobile innovation and investment, create a blueprint for future spectrum reallocations, and help enable a more connected life for all Americans. 

We have always viewed the auction as a win-win-win scenario for consumers, broadcasters, and wireless companies.  It is exciting to see that coming into fruition.  Good luck in the auction.

Baker is president & CEO of CTIA.