FCC head urges swift action on spectrum crunch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A booming wireless market threatens to overload U.S. airwaves if the government fails to act swiftly, the nation’s top communications regulator said in remarks prepared for a speech on Friday.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski warned that if network congestion continues to grow, “consumer frustration will grow with it.”

“We’re in the early stages of a mobile revolution that is sparking an explosion in wireless traffic. Without action, demand for spectrum will soon outstrip supply,” Genachowski said in remarks prepared for the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Wireless companies have lobbied for help to deal with a looming spectrum crunch as more consumers turn to mobile devices to surf the Web.

The Obama administration in June endorsed making 500 megahertz of spectrum available over the next 10 years to meet the growing demand for wireless services on laptops and smartphones, such as Apple Inc’s iPhone.

The FCC, which manages commercial spectrum licenses, and the Commerce Department, which oversees government spectrum, have been working together to locate unused spectrum.

The Commerce Department last month identified 115 megahertz of spectrum that could be reallocated to wireless broadband, and the FCC hopes to repurpose 120 megahertz of spectrum from television stations through voluntary incentive auctions.

In his remarks, Genachowski reiterated the need for incentive auctions, where television broadcasters like CBS Corp would voluntarily give up spectrum in exchange for a portion of the proceeds from the auction of the airwaves.

Under the FCC’s proposal, lawmakers would have to give the agency the authority to conduct the auctions and divert some of the revenue from the U.S. Treasury.

Genachowski noted a letter sent by trade groups representing more than 2,000 companies and almost $2 trillion in annual revenue, urging lawmakers to swiftly pass legislation to allow the FCC to move forward with the auctions.

“Incentive auctions would be a big win for our country,” Genachowski said, adding that the auctions would help reduce the deficit while freeing up more airwaves for mobile broadband.

Without more efficient use of the nation’s spectrum, consumers will be forced to contend with clogged networks, more dropped calls and slower connection speeds on wireless devices.

Reporting by Jasmin Melvin; Editing by Gary Hill