FCC says some broadcasters like U.S. spectrum plan

WASHINGTON Mon Mar 15, 2010 2:30pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Some U.S. TV broadcasters have indicated they support a proposal to give up their airwaves to help resolve a shortage of spectrum for advanced mobile phone services, the top communications regulator said.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski said "a number of broadcasters" were open to his plan, which would call for them to give up airwave licenses for auction in exchange for receiving a share of the proceeds.

Some analysts have been skeptical about whether the plan would appeal to broadcasters unless the FCC offers them a very big percentage of the auction proceeds.

"We've certainly heard from a number of broadcasters who have told us that this is a promising direction and (they) are getting ready to roll up their sleeves with us," Genachowski said in an interview on Friday.

He did not name specific broadcasters, nor would he comment on the percentage of proceeds that would go to broadcasters under the plan. Analysts say there could be a public outcry if the FCC gives broadcasters too big a share, since wireless auction proceeds typically go to the U.S. Treasury.

The country's broadcasters -- including General Electric's NBC, News Corp's Fox, Walt Disney's ABC and CBS Corp -- hold spectrum licenses estimated to be worth $50 billion.

Genachowski will unveil on March 16 the National Broadband Plan aimed at promoting U.S. Internet speeds and usage. He promised on Friday that the spectrum plan would be attractive to everybody, including broadcasters and viewers.

"We've developed a plan that is a real win-win for all involved. We've every expectation it will work," he said.

He has said the plan would include a goal of releasing 500 megahertz of spectrum by 2020 for wireless broadband services. This would include any spectrum relinquished by broadcasters.

Genachowski also aims to auction another chunk of wireless airwaves known as the D-Block band, which the FCC had failed to sell in a 2008 auction.

Analysts said operators had previously shied away from bidding on the D-block because it came with many restrictions, such as an obligation to agree on network technologies with public safety groups that would also use the airwaves.

Genachowski vowed that the FCC would not to make the same mistake again.

"One of the core lessons the team has learned was not to replicate what didn't work in the past," he said, adding that the terms would have to be attractive to potential bidders. "There won't be any onerous conditions."

Wireless operators including AT&T Inc and Verizon Wireless, a venture of Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc, are under pressure to increase their network capacity in coming years due to surging demand for mobile Internet.

TO SET SPEED MILESTONES

The national broadband plan also has the goal of providing 100 million U.S. households with broadband connections at speeds of 100 megabits per second by 2020, which would be about 25 times faster than the current average.

Operators including Qwest Communications and AT&T Inc have questioned the viability of the goal, which would require billions of dollars in new investments.

Genachowski said the goal could be reached by degrees, following milestones set for between now and 2020. He said market demand would likely be a big factor in achieving the final goal of helping the United States stay competitive.

"It is both aspirational and achievable. We will have to find a way to get there," he said. "Network innovators in this country will get there. There will be market demand to push them there."

Asked if the broadband plan will help lower prices for consumers, Genachowski said it will take competition among broadband service providers "very seriously" and will commit the agency to an "energetic competition policy."

That would involve providing consumers with tools to inform them of the quality of broadband services. The FCC also plans to collect data and information to measure competitiveness.

(Reporting by Sinead Carew and John Poirier; Editing by Gary Hill, Tiffany Wu and Richard Chang)

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