Demand for mobile broadband capacity is projected to outstrip wireless network supply in the next decade unless the federal government takes action to reform both commercial and government use of this finite public resource, the electromagnetic spectrum, to make it more efficient. Spectrum legislation passed the 112th Congress, as part of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. It authorized the FCC to conduct Incentive Auctions for which TV and radio broadcasters may choose to relinquish their licensed frequencies for future mobile broadband use in exchange for a share of the auction proceeds. The public safety nonprofit FirstNet will also be entitled to auction proceeds to help fund wireless operations of first responders. Meanwhile, the Commerce Department’s NTIA and the FCC had already started work on a spectrum inventory project in order to identify unused and underused commercial and federal government frequency blocks that may be re-assigned and/or auctioned for licensed or unlicensed wireless broadband use. All of these initiatives trace their origins to the 2010 National Broadband Plan that Congress mandated the FCC to develop.
In response to this year’s legislation, the FCC has initiated rulemakings on both commercial mobile Spectrum Holdings, and Incentive Auctions. CCIA supports FCC adoption of pro-competitive spectrum holdings limitations per frequency band so that the largest two companies in an already concentrated mobile broadband cannot increase their dominant market power via incentive auctions. All spectrum blocks are not created equal, but have different propagation characteristics that must be taken into account depending, for example on whether the frequencies are needed for congested urban use or rural use. CCIA also supports the reservation of some of the newly available spectrum for unlicensed use, including a significant portion that would be available on a uniform nationwide basis for the first time. Use of so-called TV white spaces and dynamic spectrum sharing by smart devices can increase the efficiency of spectrum use so that more wireless users can be accommodated for a diversity of functions.