* FCC chair says incentive auctions key to spectrum crunch
* Broadcasters fear consequences of parting with airwaves
By Jasmin Melvin
LAS VEGAS, April 12 Some U.S. airwaves used for
free, over-the-air TV signals must be repurposed for mobile
broadband use to tackle a looming spectrum crisis, the top U.S.
communications regulator said on Tuesday.
The Federal Communications Commission wants Congress to
grant it authority to hold incentive auctions that would
compensate television broadcasters for giving up some of their
spectrum to wireless companies.
"I believe the single most important step that will drive
our mobile economy and address consumer frustration is
authorizing voluntary incentive auctions," FCC Chairman Julius
Genachowski told broadcasters at their annual convention in Las
But broadcasters have been resistant to the agency's
proposal, worried about the unintended consequences that
parting with airwaves could have on their TV signals and the
viewers they serve.
"We're talking about putting the whole system at risk,"
Alan Frank, chief executive of Post-Newsweek Stations Inc, said
earlier in the week at the conference.
Repacking the TV band, to clear large contiguous blocks of
spectrum considered best for mobile broadband use, could
increase interference and degrade the signal strength of
broadcasters not parting with spectrum, said Frank.
"We need to start defining not how the auction works, but
what this is going to mean for the broadcasters who don't
participate in the auction," Frank said.
Genachowski said he understood the concerns broadcasters
had, and said he would work closely with them to implement
policy that benefited them and the economy.
He praised the industry for also looking to take advantage
of "a multi-platform broadband world" by introducing new
technologies, platforms and business models to reach viewers.
But he made it clear that while the agency is working on
multiple fronts to solve the spectrum crunch, the authority to
hold voluntary incentive auctions is vital to meeting demand.
Some 25 million Americans watch video on their cell phones,
and tablet computers like Apple Inc's (AAPL.O) iPad put 120
times more demand on spectrum than older phones.
"This growing demand is not going away. The result is a
spectrum crunch," Genachowski said. "The only thing that can
address the growing overall demand for mobile is increasing the
overall supply of spectrum and the efficiency of its use."
Wireless carriers have lobbied for help, saying a spectrum
shortage would mean clogged networks, more dropped calls and
slower connection speeds for wireless customers.
AT&T Inc (T.N) last month announced a $39-billion plan to
buy Deutsche Telekom AG's (DTEGn.DE) T-Mobile USA, in part to
deal with its impending spectrum shortage.
The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) has
questioned the existence of a nationwide spectrum shortage, but
the group said they would only oppose the auctions if they
appeared to harm broadcasters who opt not to part with spectrum
or seemed to harm viewers.
Some 43 million Americans rely exclusively on over-the-air
(Reporting by Jasmin Melvin; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)