FCC targets additional spectrum ahead of incentive auction

The Federal Communications Commission is proposing to auction off four bands of wireless frequencies, including one currently used by the military.

The additional spectrum will help wireless carriers meet their customers' skyrocketing demand for data, and the revenue from the auction could help the government pay for a nationwide communications network for first responders.

The auction is separate from the FCC's broadcast incentive auction, in which the agency will buyback the licenses of TV stations. 

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But the revenue from auctioning the four bands, collectively called "AWS-3," could give the FCC more flexibility in how it structures the incentive auctions. 

Democrats have urged the FCC to ensure that small carriers win some of the broadcast spectrum and to set aside a significant amount spectrum for unlicensed use, which powers technologies such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. But those goals could reduce overall auction revenue, which the government is relying on to pay for the $7 billion public safety network. 

"Because if we get this right, we also will substantially fund a nationwide, interoperable, wireless broadband network for public safety—the First Responders Network Authority—even before we begin our upcoming spectrum incentive auctions," Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. "This is important, because it means we can finally deliver on the promise of the 9/11 Commission recommendations. Plus, funding this network through these auctions now will enhance the Commission’s flexibility to design more robust incentive auctions later."

Acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn said the proceeding "has the potential to repurpose a significant amount of spectrum for flexible commercial use, benefiting consumers and businesses across the nation." 

The proposal, released late Tuesday, covers the 1695-1710 MHz, 1755-1780 MHz and 2155-2180 MHz bands. The Defense Department is currently using the the 1755-1780 band, but has agreed to move to other frequencies.