FCC: More Broadband 'Top Priority'

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Spectrum for broadband use — and the lack of it — was the overriding issue during a discussion between Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) president Gary Shapiro and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski during International CES.

In a break from tradition, Genachowski gave a 20-minute speech detailing the key issues confronting the FCC and how they impact American innovation, creativity and job growth.

He stressed the FCC’s mission was to foster competition and to prepare a “robust and vital” digital infrastructure for the 21st Century.

In deference to his locale and audience, Genachowski marveled at the innovation of just the past few years, ticking off the introduction of smartphones, tablet devices and e-books, as well as the new and growing apps economy.

Without more spectrum made available for wireless broadband, he was concerned a lot of this growth will be stopped in its tracks. “More spectrum is one of the very top priorities for the FCC in 2011,” he said.

Once Congress gives its approval, the FCC would like to immediately start “incentive auctions” of spectrum now in the hands of TV broadcasters. This spectrum would then be used by new stakeholders to handle the massive numbers of new devices entering the marketplace. Shapiro asked Genachowski for details, and he said the commission would quickly create a framework for liberalizing spectrum use and develop auction rules. In a best-case situation, this could happen in about two years.

Genachowski also discussed the need for Universal Service Fund reform. “We had the best phone service in the world and it fueled the economy of the 20th Century. USF has created a set of dependencies that’s holding us back. It now needs to focus on broadband,” rather than telephony.

Overall, he was fairly optimistic about America’s position in the explosive world of technology. “In the global race we have a head start,” but putting more spectrum in the hands of innovative companies will ensure growth and job creation for the years ahead, he said.


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