Amid speculation that Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski (News - Alert) may step down before he can see his wireless broadband vision realized fully, industry watchers note that his legacy lies in wireless spectrum policy, as exemplified by the planned wireless incentive auctions for freeing up additional wireless broadband airwaves.
Genachowski’s term is up on June 30, and while he said he has no plans to leave, some speculate that he will step down in light of the fact that few political appointees serve a second term. Paul Gallant, an analyst at Guggenheim Securities, said that his wireless legacy will be notable.
"He's done a lot on spectrum, he's pushed the ball pretty far down the road," Gallant told Investors.com. "If he leaves, somebody else will pick it up, and if all goes well, there'll be some shared credit."
The FCC (News - Alert) and the Obama Administration have a goal of fulfilling the National Broadband Plan, which calls for broadband access to all Americans, particularly in rural and underserved areas. To that end, Genachowski has set thresholds of freeing up an additional 300 megahertz of spectrum by 2015, and 500 MHz by 2020.
The incentive auctions will reallocate up to 120 MHz of TV spectrum for mobile broadband-- a significant step in the process. The auctions, slated for next year, are aimed at repurposing unused TV broadcast spectrum for use by advanced wireless services.
"This is a big deal," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski at an open meeting of the Commission in announcing the approved plan
As wireless operators continue to feel the crunch of a spectrum shortage in the face of ever more mobile broadband congestion and usage, and demand from previously unconnected areas in rural parts of the nation, the FCC has been looking at ways to reclaim spectrum that isn't being used. Local TV broadcasters yielded the "digital dividend" when they made the switch from analog to digital broadcasting, leaving vast swaths of prime beachfront spectrum (the kind that can penetrate indoors and be very useful for expanding 4G coverage, for instance) unused.
After deep negotiations with National Association of Broadcasters on how to execute the idea, the FCC decided on a double-sided auction. An incentive auction would allow broadcasters to put up their airwaves for bidding on by the FCC, guaranteeing them compensation for the assets. Then, in a forward auction, the spectrum would be auctioned off to wireless operators.
The NAB also won assurances from the FCC that the repacking of the spectrum--reassigning bands to ready it for auction--will not degrade local TV stations' over-the-air coverage. At the NAB's request, Congress included language in the authorizing legislation to that effect.
"[This is] a new paradigm in spectrum policy that uses market forces to repurpose beachfront spectrum for licensed and unlicensed wireless broadband," Genachowski said. "We are in a global bandwidth race. It is similar to the space race in that success will unleash waves of innovation that will go a long way to determining who leads our global economy in the 21st century."
He added, "Because of innovative American companies and entrepreneurs – and smart government policies – the U.S. has regained global leadership in mobile over the past few years. Incentive auctions will help keep us there."
Genachowski is also working on other wireless broadband initiatives. For instance, at the Consumer Electronics Show last week, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced that the FCC would be re-allocating 195MHz of the 5Hz band now in use by federal and non-federal workers to unlicensed Gigabit Wi-Fi—a move that could significantly bolster throughput and support for bandwidth-intensive services.
“This will increase and free up the unlicensed spectrum available for ultra-high-speed, high-capacity Wi-Fi – known as ‘Gigabit Wi-Fi’ – by up to 35 percent,” said the FCC, in a statement.
Investors.com noted that replacement candidates for the FCC chairman could include Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn; Larry Strickling, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration; and Karen Kornbluh, ambassador to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD.
Edited by Brooke Neuman