Tech Execs, Government Officials Stump for Spectrum Reform

Administration officials press for policy reform to free up more spectrum for mobile broadband, a push backed by some of the Web's biggest players, including Google and Microsoft.
Posted February 23, 2011

Kenneth Corbin

WASHINGTON -- Microsoft and Google may be fierce corporate rivals, but in the policy arena, they share a common cause in pressing for spectrum reform.

Here at a Capitol Hill briefing organized by the Wireless Innovation Alliance on Wednesday, senior policy advisors from both companies joined with administration officials in making the case for freeing up more spectrum for high-speed mobile broadband service.

"As we think about spectrum, we think about ... not only about the crunch today but the crunch that will continue over time," said Paula Boyd, regulatory affairs counsel for Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT). "This is not a one-shot deal."

Rick Whitt, Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) director and managing counsel of telecom and media policy, echoed that view, explaining that his company is pressing for a multifaceted approach to spectrum reform, including freeing up both government and commercial portions of the airwaves for licensed and unlicensed uses, and encouraging more efficient allocation of the finite resources through secondary markets.

Both Microsoft and Google were vocal supporters of the movement to free up white space spectrum, the buffer zones between TV channels, for broadband access. The Wireless Innovation Alliance was organized by the Washington public affairs and public relations firm Qorvis to prevail on policymakers to make the white spaces available, and now operates under the aegis of the Glen Echo Group.

The Obama administration has signed on to a spectrum reform agenda, backing a policy framework that would seek to free up 500 MHz of spectrum for mobile broadband over the next decade. The White House outlined that proposal last June, and more recently, President Obama announced the National Wireless Initiative, which aims to deliver high-speed service to 98 percent of the population within five years.

"This revolution over the next five to 10 years is something that is going to be a game changer," Phil Weiser, the senior advisor for technology and innovation with the National Economic Council, said today. "There's an opportunity here to use spectrum more efficiently."

At the direction of the administration, the federal agency that oversees government spectrum is reviewing its current allocations with an eye toward freeing up capacity for wireless broadband providers.

Separately, the Federal Communications Commission, which manages spectrum allocations in the private sector, is pressing ahead with its efforts to boost mobile broadband, including asking Congress for the authority to hold auctions to resell licenses currently held by TV broadcasters.

Weiser has met with members of the National Association of Broadcasters, the industry trade group that has raised concerns about the so-called incentive auctions, to discuss the plan. Weiser today said that he does not expect many TV stations to participate in the auctions, and that most of those that do give up their licenses will still remain on the air through spectrum-sharing technologies or by relocating their broadcast to a different band.

The incentive auctions would give the TV broadcasters that handed over their licenses a portion of the revenue from reselling their spectrum to mobile broadband providers. After those payouts, the White House has estimated that the auctions would generate nearly $28 billion in revenue, of which $10 billion would be used to pay down the federal deficit.

"It's not often you find an opportunity to reduce the deficit at the same time you catalyze economic growth," Weiser said. "That's what makes this in part such a unique opportunity."

Updated to reflect that the Wireless Innovation Alliance campaign is no longer led by Qorvis, but by the Glen Echo Group.

Kenneth Corbin is an associate editor at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

Tags: wireless, networking, broadcasters, mobile broadband, Spectrum Reform

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