FCC gives glimpse of broadband plan

After months of speculating about what the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband strategy will entail, telecommunications firms and lobbyists got some long-awaited answers Wednesday.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced he would free up a big chunk of airwaves—500 megahertz—for wireless broadband services. Hillicon Valley broke the news Tuesday. The announcement doesn’t quite satisfy cell phone companies that have been lobbying for at least 800 megahertz of spectrum, but the wireless industry’s trade group, CTIA, called it a “down payment.”

Through the National Broadband Plan, due to Congress March 17, the FCC will also recommend an auction to let broadcasters volunteer to give up spectrum they aren’t using in exchange for auction proceeds.

Genachowski said the measure “would allow broadcasters to elect to participate in a mechanism that could save costs for broadcasters while also being a major part of the solution to one of our country’s most significant challenges.”

Broadcasters have spent the past several months fighting the notion of giving up the airwaves they use to provide over-the-air programming to viewers. But since the majority of the country now relies on cable and satellite for TV service, a large swath of broadcasters’ airwaves go unused.

The plan will also include a recommendation that the FCC invest in research and development efforts to experiment with new spectrum access models and allow new technologies onto the airwaves.

The announcements should allay initial fears from lawmakers that the plan would be too vague and lacking detailed recommendations. Still, putting these ideas into practice will take a lot of time.

As Genachowski put it on Wednesday, “There is an enormous amount of work to be done.”

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