Spectrum Discussions Continue at CES

Most of the policy talk at CES centered around the need for spectrum and the spectrum auctions slated for 2014.  While Commissioner Clyburn says these auctions will definitely happen in 2014, Commissioner McDowell was a bit more skeptical, saying that even previous auctions that were far less complicated were delayed.

Many questions about the upcoming auctions were posed with the answer often being more discussion is needed.  Questions about repacking, procedure, guard bands, and unlicensed use remain unanswered. 

The spectrum available to companies will be reorganized to free up large continuous blocks of spectrum, rather than piece meal bands that companies would have to string together.  When all is said and done, television broadcasters would maintain flexibility in the spectrum for multiple uses.

The repacking of spectrum throughout the auction will be dynamic.  At each stage of the auction, participants will have a different band plan put before them because the commission won’t know what will be available as broadcasters perhaps opt out or a swath of spectrum is sold. 

If a broadcaster opts out it affects all other stations around it.  If affects how channels will be relocated, in addition to how much a segment maybe worth.  As companies are bidding, do they only get to submit one bid, or can they revise their bids throughout the auction?  How will relocating of channels be done in a reasonable way? 

The FCC’s repacking scheme for spectrum and band plans is far more complex than anything the FCC has done in the past.  It is far more complicated than the digital television transition, which had its own issues. The issue of repacking during the auction may prove very problematic with out clear guidelines.

In moving forward the FCC has to think about the entire band plan and not just what’s being auctioned.  The hardest thing could be to balance between what is technically the best possible band plan and what can actually be auctioned.

In looking at what can be auctioned the question of what is the actual need for guard bands.  It was noted that good fences make good neighbors, Neil Fried, Cheif Counsel of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, asserts that the FCC can’t just expand the need for guard bands without solid engineering research.  Fried asserts that what has been set aside at this point could be worth 20 billion at auction.n  If we were to head into the auction now, we would not know how much spectrum is available or how much money the auction could raise.

However, Chairman Genachowski noted that these guard bands would be available for unlicensed use.  Given the consensus that unlicensed use is important perhaps the inclusion of these guard bands would not be a total waste.

The future of unlicensed use may be the closest thing to an answer at any of the panels.  Both Chairman and commissioners laud the importance of unlicensed use, and say there will be unlicensed spectrum available.  But is this really an announcement, considering Congress directed the FCC to make space for unlicensed use anyway?

When asked about unlicensed use of Spectrum in the 5 Ghz band Commissioner McDowell said it’s a good idea and it’s the law. Congress said we should do this.  Commissioner Rosenworcel noted that unlicensed use has contributed between $16 and $37 billion to the US economy.

In addition Chairman Genachowski announced that to relieve congestion in the Wi-Fi space 35% of the 5Ghz spectrum will be dedicated to Wi-Fi use.  Whether they have the intention of Wi-Fi and unlicensed use being the same thing or set apart as separate bands was unclear.

The good news is 2014 is a ways off and there is time to resolves these questions.  The bad news is 2014 isn’t really that far away.

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