A boost for FCC wireless plan

By Joelle Tessler
Associated Press / June 29, 2010

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WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is backing a plan to nearly double the space available on the airwaves for wireless high-speed Internet traffic to keep up with ever-growing demand for video and other cutting-edge applications on laptops and mobile devices.

President Obama yesterday committed the federal government to freeing up an additional 500 megahertz of radio spectrum for broadband over the next 10 years, with much of that auctioned off to commercial wireless carriers. The wireless industry currently holds roughly 500 megahertz of spectrum, but hasn’t put all of it to use yet.

The White House memorandum marks an official endorsement of one of the key proposals in the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband plan for bringing high-speed Internet access to all Americans. That plan, released in March, envisions wireless technology as a key way to make that happen — particularly in rural areas where it may be uneconomical to build landline networks.

The FCC also wants to free up more airwaves to head off what it says could be a serious spectrum shortage — particularly in dense, urban areas — as more and more Americans use iPhones and other popular wireless devices to access everything from Facebook pages to driving directions while on the go.

Yesterday, the administration framed the matter as one of jobs and economic opportunity. “America’s future competitiveness and global technology leadership depend, in part, upon the availability of additional spectrum,’’ Obama wrote in the presidential memorandum. “The world is going wireless, and we must not fall behind.’’

The plan builds on existing efforts by the FCC, Congress, and the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration to identify radio spectrum that can be reallocated for commercial broadband services. The memorandum calls for the creation of a public inventory of all airwaves now in the hands of government and commercial users.

The administration also said yesterday that much of the spectrum will have to come from the federal government. The administration is hoping to raise tens of billions of dollars by auctioning off more spectrum to commercial wireless carriers.

Those proceeds would be used to reduce the deficit, invest in high-speed rail and other infrastructure projects, and build a wireless broadband network for emergency workers.