The FCC has been running around of late telling anyone who'll listen that there's a spectrum crisis, though some FCC insiders insist the crisis is entirely manufactured
to the benefit of Uncle Sam's wallet and a few major spectrum squatters. The FCC's focus has been on broadcasters, calling them out publicly for inefficient spectrum use. While broadcasters aren't exempt from criticism, they've been insisting that they're the least of the problem, because a large number of companies are hoarding spectrum
with no intent to use it anytime soon.
The wireless industry claims broadcasters are wrong
, arguing unscientifically that there just has
to be a spectrum crisis -- because people really, really like wireless data. Of course strained networks may have more to do with insufficient backhaul and deployment cutbacks than spectrum, which companies like Verizon insist they have plenty of. Speaking at the Mobile Future Forum in DC
(pdf) FCC boss Julius Genachowski this week mirrored the wireless industry's claim that spectrum squatting isn't real, and that future demand means a crunch must be real:
First, there are some who say that the spectrum crunch is greatly exaggerated indeed, that there is no crunch coming. They also suggest that there are large blocks of spectrum just lying around and that 8 some licensees, such as cable and wireless companies, are just sitting on top of, or "hoarding," unused spectrum that could readily solve that problem. Thats just not true. Lets look at the facts. Multiple expert sources expect that by 2014, demand for mobile broadband and the spectrum to fuel it, will be 35 times the levels it was in 2009...The looming spectrum shortage is real and it is the alleged hoarding that is illusory.
Maybe, and maybe not. Harold Feld, Legal Director of consumer Group Public Knowledge, tells Broadband Reports that it all depends on what your definition of "squatter" is. "If the question is 'are companies scooping up licenses for the express purpose of flipping them later for big bucks," then Genachowski is right,' says Feld. "If the question is 'do companies come in and scoop up licenses when they have no clue how they will use them and figure they can sell them later if things don't work out,' then there are plenty of squatters."
The looming spectrum shortage is real and it is the alleged hoarding that is illusory.
-FCC Boss Julius Genachowski
Dish Network is accumulating spectrum they openly state they have no intent on using
. Verizon and AT&T hold billions in spectrum assets won over the last ten years they may never use. Time Warner Cable, Comcast and Bright House have a large swath of AWS (advanced wireless services) spectrum licenses they won in 2006 under the banner of Spectrum Co. they have no plans for. Feld compares spectrum to the housing market, noting that a lot of people rushed in to grab spectrum at "attractive prices," but had no real idea (and still don't) what to do with it.
"This is the whole problem with distributing licenses by auction and then waiting for the "free market" to come up with the most efficient results," says Feld, who compares the spectrum
owners to housing speculators, given that whatever the intention, it still wound up distorting the market. "Spectrum Co. and similar ventures weren't looking to squat on spectrum, but it doesn't change the fact that they don't have a clue how to use it and don't want to sell it."
Whatever you'd like to call it, broadcasters are pushing for a broad spectrum inventory -- an idea most folks support but the military (yet another inefficient spectrum holder) squashed the last go round. Genachowski's pushing back against this new effort as well, insisting the FCC had already conducted "one of the most substantial and comprehensive evaluations of spectrum in the Commission's history" and has a baseline understanding of who owns what spectrum. The CTIA, which previously told us they supported such an inventory, is now backing up Genachowski and claiming the "country can't wait" for a spectrum inventory.
Both the CTIA and the FCC boss are now essentially engaged in symmetrical talking points, claiming an inventory isn't necessary, a frightening spectrum crisis is looming, nobody is actually squatting on spectrum, and that the best way to tackle all of this is so-called incentive auctions aimed primarily at putting broadcaster spectrum to use for next-gen wireless networks. Neither the CTIA or Genachowski appear to support any kind of tougher "use it or lose it" requirements on spectrum holders, despite the fact this is technically a public resource.