TMCnews Featured Article

March 26, 2010

Lawmakers Grill FCC on Spectrum, Net Neutrality

By Alice Straight, TMCnet Web Editor

The House Internet subcommittee took its first look at the Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan.

Lawmakers focused on the proposals to reclaim spectrum from TV broadcasters and Net Neutrality issues.

The Broadband Plan proposes reallocating 120 MHz of broadcast airwaves for wireless data networks in the next five years.  The FCC (News - Alert) hopes that broadcasters will voluntarily give up licenses in exchange for a portion of the proceeds of a resale auction.  The broadcast reallocation would be part of a larger move to free up 500MHz of spectrum for mobile data networks in the next 10 years from licensed, unlicensed and secondary-markets.

Broadcasters have already voiced concerns for the proposal.

Dennis Wharton, the executive vice president of the National Association of Broadcasters, said the spectrum goals in the National Broadcast Plan would cause the closure of hundreds of broadcast stations.

The group plans to oppose any measure to pressure broadcasters to relinquish their spectrum, warning of the loss of independent or niche stations, as well as the threat to new mobile TV services.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski (News - Alert) declined to say how he would steer the commission if licensees resisted the proposal, saying only that the FCC would 'make sure that broadcasters are treated fairly.'

The FCC would need congressional authorization to conduct the 'incentive auctions' proposed in the broadband plan.

'Licenses all expire,' said Commissioner Michael Copps (News - Alert), a Democrat. 'I've always been a believer in use it or lose it,' he said, cautioning broadcasters to demonstrate that they are making the most efficient use of their airwaves while the FCC conducts an inventory in search of more spectrum to use for mobile broadband.

Members of the subcommittee questioned the plans lack of inclusion of net neutrality.

The plan didn't address reclassifying broadband as a regulated telecommunications service, which would subject ISPs to the same common carrier requirements that govern wireline telephone providers

The FCC voted to initiate a rule-making process on Genachowski's net neutrality proposal in October, and final rule are likely to be considered in the coming months, but the broadband plan made no mention of it.

Genachowski was seeking to stake out distance between his proposal for net neutrality rules and the burdensome regulatory regime that ardent critics say it would inevitably create.

'I've been very public for quite a long time that clear high-level rules to preserve a free and open Internet' are needed, he said. 'I see real consistency between my priorities of innovation and investment and preserving a free and open Internet.'

Alice Straight is a TMCnet editor. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Alice Straight