FCC told US needs to open airwaves

Spectrum limits broadband access

By Todd Shields
Bloomberg News / January 5, 2010

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WASHINGTON - The United States should free “underutilized’’ airwaves for use by wireless companies such as Clearwire Corp. and Sprint Nextel Corp. to increase competition for high-speed Internet services, antitrust regulators said.

“The scarcity of spectrum is a fundamental obstacle that the commission should address,’’ the Department of Justice said in comments submitted to the Federal Communications Commission yesterday.

The FCC has asked for public comment on whether television broadcasters should relinquish some airwaves to meet a surge in demand for wireless high-speed Internet service, or broadband. The agency must submit a plan for expanding broadband access to Congress by Feb. 17.

Wireless services can provide an alternative to Internet providers that use wires, such as cable companies and telephone companies, the Justice Department said in its comments, and a lack of airwaves, or spectrum, is a constraint on wireless companies including Clearwire, Sprint Nextel, Deutsche Telekom AG’s T-Mobile unit, “and new start-ups.’’

The department also said there are “unanswered questions’’ about whether wireless Internet services will be offered at prices to compete with wired Internet services.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski cited “a looming spectrum crisis’’ and raised the idea of reallocating spectrum in an Oct. 7 speech to wireless-company executives at a convention in San Diego.

The Justice Department said in its comments that reallocating underutilized spectrum would encourage development of wireless services and could help make them more competitive.

Broadcasters have said they need their airwaves for purposes including sending more than one program at a time, and sending high-definition pictures.