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Congress Wants More Spectrum (and Broadband) From the FCC

July 10, 2012 , ,

How can we meet demand for spectrum and spur innovation?

This question sums up what all the Representatives were asking at today’s
FCC Oversight Hearing before the House Subcommittee on Communications and
Technology—and it’s a really good question. 
It shows that Congress is aware of the importance of wireless and wired
technologies in the lives of consumers and businesses.  It also shows that they are eager to improve
these technologies to promote competition, promote job creation, and help make
our lives easier.  

House Representatives asked thoughtful and insightful
questions of all 5 FCC Commissioners on meeting the demand for spectrum, providing
universal broadband service, promptly addressing issues, updating regulations
to ensure competitive markets and innovation, and even the storms that have
been sweeping the country. 

Rep. Terry said early in the hearing:  it is “absolutely necessary” to have spectrum
to meet growing demands. 

How do we do
this? Incentive auctions, according to Chairman Genachowski. 

Rep. Eschoo agreed but urged the FCC to
closely follow the Congressional intent to provide rules that will enhance
competition, consumer choice, and innovation, while also providing new
opportunities for unlicensed spectrum.

Genachowski agreed with Eshoo that unlicensed
spectrum
is “extraordinarily successful”—noting that it gave us wifi—and
promised to ensure that innovators and entrepreneurs will have unlicensed
spectrum to pursue new technologies. 

This
promise to provide unlicensed spectrum would surely lead to great innovation in
the future, but some representatives questioned whether incentive auctions
would be enough and encouraged the use of shared spectrum as an additional
technique to address the spectrum crunch. 

In the end, the representatives and the FCC came to some agreement that
sharing spectrum is good, but not at the expense of clearing spectrum.

You can’t talk about spectrum these days without talking
about the proposed Verizon/SpectrumCo license transfers.  Rep. Waxman reiterated concerns of PK and
other interest groups by urging the FCC to raise serious questions about the proposed
transactions because of how the deals could harm competition.

Concerns about meeting spectrum demand and encouraging
innovation in the wireless market did not cause members of Congress to overlook
the importance of wired technologies.  As
Commissioner Rosenworcel explained, communications and media services,
including broadband, are growing more complex and becoming integral parts of
household budgets.  Most representatives
are as dedicated as ever to making sure that all Americans have access to
reliable and reasonably priced broadband services with money from the Universal
Service Fund
(USF).  Rep. Eshoo made it
clear that the U.S. should be #1 in broadband and expressed gratitude to the
FCC for its improvements in access around the country. 

But details of USF may still need some work.  Reps. Terry and Christensen worry that the models
used to determine funding are inaccurate or use incorrect data and rural
broadband service providers will receive less funding as a result (meaning
people might be left without service). 
Rep. Barton disagreed, however, and was at a loss as to why USF still
exists.  He thinks that almost all the population has service at
reasonable prices.  Even if this were true, the FCC should keep broadband implementation as one of its
top priorities until all of the population has service at reasonable prices—and most representatives at the hearing agreed.

There was also lots of talk about special access—the high-capacity
data links that are needed to provide service to some businesses and wireless
towers.   Currently, businesses and wireless providers
have to request access to these data links from incumbent phone providers.  Rep. Upton wondered whether there are
sufficiently competitive alternatives to connect business and wireless services
to the rest of the world, and how the Commission will gather data to determine this
question when phone companies are loath to respond to data requests.  Chairman Genachowski said the FCC would
gather data, but didn’t explain how, and Rep. Upton’s questions really went
unanswered.

Talks about the weather—in the form of lost wireless and
wired service
—made it easy for anyone to relate to the concerns raised by the
hearing.  With phone centers and 911
emergency services interrupted because of the freak storms we’ve seen recently,
Rep. Upton made it clear that the FCC needed data on the extent of the
interruptions with the goal of preventing interruptions, something we’d all
like. 

And of course, the hot topic of internet governance made a
brief appearance in today’s hearing. 
Chairman Walden and Commissioner McDowell both maintain that a multistakeholder
approach to internet governance is best, and that ITU regulation will only be
harmful.  PK wholeheartedly agrees.

“We have to sometimes remind ourselves we’re in the 21st
century, not the 19th, not the 20th” noted Rep. Eshoo.  With a slew of pointed questions, Congress
appeared eager to move forward into the future of spectrum and broadband.  Let’s hope they work with the FCC to actually do so.