FCC: Spectrum Crunch Looms for Mobile Broadband

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski warned of an impending “spectrum crunch” for mobile broadband users in his keynote speech at CES. Ever-increasing mobile technology is leading to a greater demand for bandwidth, but almost no additional mobile bandwidth has been released by the U.S. government in recent years.

CNET quoted Genachowski, who said, “We’re threatened by a looming spectrum crunch. This is the dark cloud around the silver lining.” The FCC Chairman has offered similar warnings at two previous CES events. “Almost three years ago we started sounding the alarm, at the time to some debate,” Genachowski said. “But in a world of tablets, smartphones and now machine-to-machine communications, the debate has been settled. The plain fact is that aggregate demand is increasing at very rapid pace, while supply is flat.”

Genachowski says that bandwidth restrictions may lead to a drop-off of mobile computing innovation, which would in turn lead to U.S. job losses and the end of U.S. supremacy in mobile techonology. FCC’s 2010 National Broadband Plan estimates that the U.S. will need an additional 300 Mhz of prime spectrum by 2015 and 500 Mhz by 2020.

The big problem is that there is no bandwidth left to auction. CNET equates bandwidth to beach front property. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. A lot of bandwidth was frittered away for little to no cost to radio and television in the early days. In order to hold any further bandwidth auctions, the government will have to force current license holders to give up their rights to higher and better users. The FCC’s National Broadband Plan proposed incented voluntary surrenders of bandwidth by license holders, but that would require approval from Congress. The FCC’s frustrations have grown as they feel that Congress chooses to look the other way.