The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates the US communications industry, is to vote this month on whether to proceed with an auction of unused spectrum currently held by TV broadcasters.
Under the latest proposal, the spectrum would be made available for wireless broadband use, as outlined in the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, while broadcasters would receive a share of the auction proceeds.
The proposal has already won the support of Congress and the FCC’s approval could allow an auction to happen as soon as 2014.
The stumbling block may be the TV broadcasters, some of which have previously voiced objections to the proposed spectrum sale.
Meanwhile, US telecoms operators say that without new spectrum they will struggle to support the rising take-up of smartphones, tablets and other wireless internet devices.
The volume of data traffic carried on mobile-phone networks has soared in the last couple of years and in-use frequencies are quickly becoming congested, they insist.
“The proposal would ... free up a significant amount of unlicensed spectrum for innovative WiFi-like uses, and create the first uniform, national low-band unlicensed spectrum in any country,” said Julius Genachowski, the FCC’s chairman, in a statement.
One outstanding issue is whether the FCC should impose caps on how much spectrum an operator can acquire in the auction.
Without such restrictions, there is concern that smaller operators could be squeezed out of the auction as their larger rivals spend heavily on stockpiling spectrum.
Not surprisingly, big players like AT&T (Dallas, USA) and Verizon (New York, USA) have opposed the introduction of spectrum caps.
Lowell McAdam, Verizon’s chief executive, is reported to have said that requiring auction winners to put their spectrum to use quickly would be a better way of preventing stockpiling than the imposition of spectrum caps.