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Trade group sets off debate over spectrum 'hoarding'

Grant Gross, IDG News Service | March 18, 2011
A TV trade group is asking why its members should give up additional spectrum for mobile broadband.

"NAB ... insinuated the problem isn't their own massive warehousing and underuse of precious spectrum resources," he wrote. "Instead, the problem is everyone else."

Several other groups, including CTIA and the Consumer Electronics Association, have denounced the NAB's accusations as an effort to sidetrack the debate over spectrum needs.

The spectrum-hoarding complaints are a "desperate attempt by the broadcast industry to deflect attention from the looming national spectrum crisis," the two trade groups said in a letter to congressional leaders Thursday. "NAB has once again endeavored to search for any hint of outlier instances where spectrum allegedly is not being put to productive use -- a point that has been consistently refuted."

The letter from CTIA and CEA came a day after the NAB criticized the FCC for not completing a detailed spectrum inventory.

On Wednesday, the FCC's Genachowski, in a speech at the Mobile Future Forum, said the agency has completed a "baseline" spectrum inventory. Genachowski also refuted several points being made by the NAB, although he didn't call out the NAB by name.

"The spectrum crunch will not be solved by the build-out of already allocated spectrum," Genachowski said. "That spectrum was already built into the FCC's analysis of the spectrum shortage and does not detract from the desirability and necessity of adding the incentive auction tool to the FCC's arsenal."

The baseline inventory the FCC has completed tells the agency "more than enough" to conclude incentive auctions are needed, Genachowski said.

"Our inventory confirms that there are no hidden vacant lots of commercial airwaves, but that there are a few areas well-suited to mobile broadband, such as the TV and [mobile satellite services] bands," he added.

The FCC has not released the results of its baseline spectrum inventory, and spectrum holders are generally reluctant to talk about how much idle spectrum they own. That's led the NAB -- and other groups -- to call for a more complete spectrum inventory.

"The question is not whether the FCC can identify locations and licenses on the spectrum dashboard that have been set aside for specific services," Wharton said. "The real issue is whether specific companies that bought or were given spectrum worth billions have actually deployed it."

Several spectrum owners have denied the NAB claims, saying they're moving forward with plans to develop spectrum they've won at auction in recent years. AT&T has spent nearly $8 billion on recent 700MHz and AWS auctions, but that spectrum is the foundation of the company's 4G LTE network, launching in mid-2011, Joan Marsh, the carrier's vice president of federal regulatory affairs, wrote in a February blog post.


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