Feds, FCC promise broadband scrutiny

President Obama gave the FCC’s National Broadband Plan a dose of official momentum Monday by setting an Oct. 1 deadline for federal agencies to identify any spectrum that may be available for reallocation to wireless broadband providers.

In an executive memo to federal department and agency heads, Obama praised the broadband plan’s predicted role in spawning future innovation. He endorsed the Federal Communications Commission’s proposal to locate 500 MHz of federal and non-federal spectrum and make it available for wireless broadband use, as outlined in the ambitious National Broadband Plan unveiled in March.

The move would nearly double the amount of commercial spectrum that is available for wireless devices. The plan has raised concerns among broadcasters who fear that the feds may wind up forcing them to give up some of the spectrum that is now allocated to commercial TV stations.

But the administration’s move to push federal agencies to take inventory of their own spectrum allocations — used for informational, data transfer or public safety purposes — is a signal that the government will do its own house cleaning before putting any pressure on TV station owners.

“Expanding broadband is important, and broadcasters will work constructively with policymakers to help them attain that objective,” said NAB exec veep Dennis Wharton. “We appreciate FCC assurances that further reclamation of broadcast television spectrum will be completely voluntary.”

Obama ordered the head of every government agency that uses spectrum to coordinate with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The memo also asked that an interim progress report be filed 180 days later.

“Few technological developments hold as much potential to enhance America’s economic competitiveness, create jobs, and improve the quality of our lives as wireless high-speed access to the Internet,” said the presidential memo. “This new era in global technology leadership will only happen if there is adequate spectrum available to support the forthcoming myriad of wireless devices, networks, and applications that can drive the new economy.”

In advocating for the plan, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has warned of the looming spectrum drought as more consumers use broadband-hungry mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads.

“Putting this plan into action requires exactly the kind of cross-government collaboration outlined by the administration today,” Genachowski said in a statement. “By taking these important steps, we can tackle the looming spectrum crunch, lead the world in mobile broadband, and drive our global competitiveness and innovative capacity. If we stand still, we run a real risk to our goals of supporting private investment and a thriving economy.”

Engineers affiliated with the NAB and other TV industry groups have been working with the FCC to study the big-picture options for the TV station spectrum reallocation proposal in a way that would not compromise broadcasters’ efforts to offer next-generation digital TV services, including mobile TV. In a letter to Genachowski sent Monday, the engineer reps for the NAB and Assn. of Maximum Service Television said the groups would continue to work with the commission to ensure that its National Broadband Plan initiatives “are founded upon the engineering realities of sound spectrum management.”

(Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.)

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