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The National Broadband Plan: Understanding the Proposed Reallocation of Broadcast Spectrum and What It Means for All Users of Spectrum

Businesses dependent on spectrum should be alert to FCC trend toward greater frequency sharing and incumbent dislocation.

The FCC’s staff has released its long-awaited National Broadband Plan (“NBP”). As expected, the NBP includes controversial proposals to reclaim 120 MHz of spectrum from television broadcasters. Another spectrum reallocation, involving microwave spectrum that would impact broadcasters in their use of Broadcast Auxiliary Service spectrum, has received less attention. So too has the NBP’s overall approach to spectrum reallocations, which represents a sea change in the way the FCC manages spectrum. This new approach focuses on unlicensed and flexible uses of spectrum, placing all spectrum allocations on a three-year cycle for scrutiny and possible reallocation to “more valuable” uses.

The NBP, then, serves as a roadmap for future reallocations. Careful review of the mechanics of the specific reallocations the NBP proposes for the immediate future reveal the extent to which its authors seek to change long-established service rules for each spectrum band in order to free spectrum for other uses. This Advisory provides that review so that spectrum users, both those who are immediately affected by the NBP and those whose spectrum has not yet been surveyed by the FCC, can better understand the likely impact of such changes.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 required the FCC to deliver a national broadband plan within a year. Congress instructed the FCC to develop the NBP with the goal of ensuring that every American can access broadband service, while advancing the use of broadband to further a wide range of stated governmental priorities, including consumer welfare, civic participation, safety, healthcare, energy independence, and education.

The NBP estimates that the United States must make an additional 500 MHz of spectrum available for broadband use over the next 10 years. The NBP bases this estimate on a review of the recent growth in the use of broadband services in the United States, as well as the experiences of other countries that have implemented unified national broadband plans. The FCC asserts that the growth in broadband use is driven by the maturation of third generation (3G) wireless service; the development of mobile computing devices and smartphones that drive higher data usage per subscriber; expected increases in machine-based wireless broadband use, such as remote meter-reading devices; and the rollout of fourth generation (4G) technology, which may require larger blocks of spectrum and wider channels. The NBP states that increases in additional wireless services, such as point-to-point microwave and unlicensed networks that can serve as backhaul and which can enhance the overall quality of wireless broadband service, are needed as well to support the growth of broadband.

The NBP asserts that if the government does not make sufficient spectrum available, growth of wireless broadband will be constrained. Wireless broadband operators then will be forced to turn to alternatives, such as cell-splitting, that could cost more or provide a lower quality of service. As a result, the NBP states, consumers will experience higher prices and poorer quality, and the United States will not be able compete internationally across wide economic sectors, as innovation is hampered. Article continues — the full article can be found at The National Broadband Plan: Understanding the Proposed Reallocation of Broadcast Spectrum and What It Means for All Users of Spectrum