Obama Administration Wants 500MHz of Spectrum For Future Broadband

If you've ever tried to set up a wireless router in an apartment building or college campus, you've probably encountered problems when it came to establishing a clear signal. All too often, multiple routers in close proximity will tangle with each other, lowering the quality and range of everyone's signal. With wireless broadband usage projected to explode over the next 5-10 years (estimates range from 20x-45x) and a few cities talking about creating an umbrella of service under metro areas, it's easy to see how these sorts of well-intentioned plans could create digital traffic jams.

The Obama administration has its eye on a solution to this problem—expand the existing block of the spectrum reserved for wireless devices. In this, the White House is aligned with the FCC, which has made similar proposals as part of its overall national broadband strategy. The government's plan mirrors the FCC's as well; the first steps are to locate and map what parts of the spectrum are currently in use, then move on to developing incentive packages.

At the moment, none of the groups that currently own spectrum are overjoyed at the prospect of selling it. Television broadcast networks own 120MHz alone, but cite concerns over the availability of free programming as one reason not to sell. Note that we're talking about sales, not seizure; the government has no plans to compel any corporation or entity to turn over their licenses and instead plans to develop "incentive packages" that give various organizations and groups something else of value.

Current spectrum frequencies can only take us so far, even using dual-band routers.

According to White House economic advisor Larry Summers, broadcasters may also be able to enter into a voluntary program in which they'd be paid for their airwaves. "Ultimately, government will not make these decisions," Summers said during a speech at the New America Foundation. "Our role is simply to set up a mechanism to help shift spectrum to its highest value uses -- as current licensees and prospective users see fit. This initiative will catalyze private sector investment, contribute to economic growth, make revenue available to the federal government, and help to create hundreds of thousands of jobs."

Broadcasters welcomed assurances that any turnover would be voluntary, but didn't commit to any sort of plan past that point. "We appreciate FCC assurances that further reclamation of broadcast television spectrum will be completely voluntary," said Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters. "We're convinced that America can have both the finest broadband and broadcasting system in the world without jeopardizing the future of free and local TV service to tens of millions of viewers," Wharton said.

Multiple groups with varied interests have warned that the government needs to be on guard against any company or entity that might start warehousing spectrum with no intent to use it. If such transactions aren't monitored, shell companies could theoretically auction various wavelengths they never intended to use once prices hit record highs.