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Significant news today from the federal agencies whose job it is to find 500 MHz of radio spectrum needed for the booming mobile broadband market, 300 MHz of that needed in the next five years.

First, the National Information and Telecommunications Administration in the Department of Commerce announced that it would soon be releasing a report that will identify 115 MHz of spectrum available for commercial broadband in the next 5 years:  1675-1710 MHz and 3550-3650 MHz.   NTIA also said it would continue to examine 20 MHz of spectrum on both ends of the 4200-4400 MHz band for possible use, as well as potentially relocating federal users at 1755-1780 MHz.

Meanwhile, across town, the Federal Communications Commission hosted a day-long Spectrum Summit.  At that Summit, the FCC released the results of a new study:  “Mobile Broadband:  The Benefits of Additional Spectrum.”  I’m pleased that Cisco figures prominently in that study since the FCC used Cisco’s own Visual Networking Index demand data in evaluating the future demand curve for mobile broadband. The FCC’s study concludes that the demand growth will outpace both technology’s ability to become more efficient, and carriers’ ability to add more cell sites, so that by 2015, we’ll need 300 MHz of new spectrum to meet demand.   If anything, the FCC’s prediction may be very conservative.

Panelists at the summit today (I was fortunate enough to be one of them) focused heavily on the future of the television broadcasting bands as a source for spectrum, and the FCC’s idea to create a “voluntary incentive auction.”  That voluntary auction would allow TV broadcasters to monetize their spectrum license, an option not available to them today, enabling them to move to a new arrangement where they share spectrum with another broadcaster, or exit the business.   Designed correctly, the auction should produce fair compensation to the broadcaster volunteering for it.  The money to pay the broadcasters would come from a second auction in which spectrum is sold to carriers.  Most economists in this arena agree  --  the amount of money that would be generated from the auction of spectrum to carriers would far outstrip the amount that broadcasters would need to be paid if the mechanism is designed correctly.

Congressional staff attending the event indicated that the next Congress would likely be taking up these issues in a comprehensive and bipartisan way – in fact, most spectrum bills introduced in Congress this year have enjoyed bipartisan support.  There will be lots more news on this front.

For the moment, let me leave you with the following statement from Padmarasee Warrior, Cisco’s CTO, on the FCC study:

“The oncoming demand for video and other new applications – whether person-to-person or machine-to-machine – will largely be carried on and enjoyed over wireless broadband networks.  In order to promote this wave of innovation and productivity, we urge federal policymakers to take steps to create a national spectrum pipeline capable of handling that traffic. Today’s report by the FCC reiterates Cisco’s belief that this is important not just to address consumer expectations, but to ensure that the US technology sector continues to be the source of innovation globally.”

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