FCC boss Julius Genachowski has made getting more spectrum to market his top priority. His proposal to accomplish this has primarily been something called incentive auctions
, which allow broadcasters to voluntarily give up spectrum in exchange for some of the auction proceeds. The National Broadband Plan recommended the reallocation of 500 MHz of spectrum for wireless broadband, with 120 MHz of it coming from the spectrum used for local TV broadcasts.
According to Genachowski, such auctions would be a "mechanism to enable market forces to unleash the value of that spectrum for broadband use." Cable operators and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) have somewhat balked at the idea, primarily because they're worried that the voluntary auctions may not be so voluntary.
The FCC has announced that during an upcoming meeting they'll lay the groundwork to get these auctions up and running, with the goal of getting rules formalized in 2013 with an auction in 2014. In a statement e-mailed to the press, Genachowski stated that the auctions will be a boon to the entire wireless ecosystem:
"In freeing up spectrum for wireless broadband, incentive auctions will drive faster speeds, greater capacity, and ubiquitous mobile coverage. These are essential ingredients for innovation and leadership in the 21st century economy where smartphones and tablets powered by 4G LTE and Wi-Fi networks are proliferating, and the mobile Internet becomes more important every day. Over the last few years, the U.S. has regained global leadership in mobile innovation -- and we must not let up now."
The FCC will be seeking public comment on how specifically to design incentive auctions, which not only aim to convince broadcasters to give up spectrum, but to share spectrum with other stations, or volunteer to give up UHF spectrum for a VHF channel.
Despite ceaseless "spectrum apocalypse" claims from incumbent lobbyists, the problem hasn't necessarily been the lack of spectrum -- it has been the inefficient use of existing spectrum (government, AT&T's sluggish refarming of 2G spectrum), and the fact that AT&T and Verizon are sitting on the majority of it. The FCC also recently announced
they'll take a closer look at the rules determining how much spectrum is too much spectrum for one company to possess.