June 21, 2013 - 11:15 am
By Ruth Milkman | Chief, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau

The FCC’s incentive auction task force is making progress towards holding the world’s first incentive auction in 2014 which will free up valuable spectrum for mobile broadband use across the country.

Over the past few weeks, the Commission has received significant input from parties representing a range of viewpoints on the type of band plan we should adopt when we re-pack the 600MHz spectrum as part of the auction.  

Each addition to the record increases our knowledge and understanding of the complexities of this ground-breaking process and helps to ensure we act in the public interest.  We are grateful for the input. 

At last count, there were over a dozen proposed band plans in our record.  While some differ substantially, many seem at a high level to be quite similar - and without close review may even give the misleading impression that a “consensus” has in fact been reached.  But we all know that the devil is in the details, and in reality the proposed plans are dissimilar in notable respects.

A number of commenters support band plans that are in the “Down from 51” family.  But some plans would limit paired licensed spectrum to 50 MHz http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=7022426215, while others call for a larger number of paired bands http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=7022426525, http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=7022426263.  Some plans accommodate market variation by including television stations in the duplex gap in limited areas http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=7022426525, http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=7022426263, while others say there should be no market variation at all http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=7022426141. 

In its NPRM, the Commission identified the ability to accommodate market variation as an important objective.   We particularly appreciate the commenters that have given thought to what we should do in markets where small amounts of spectrum - potentially significantly less than the amount cleared in most of the nation - are cleared for auction.  By implementing a band plan that supports variation between markets, we would not be forced to limit the auction to the amount of spectrum available in the least cleared markets.  The following chart makes this clear:

As the chart also shows, we’re looking for a consistent amount of spectrum in the vast majority of the country - there may be less in constrained markets, but we aren’t contemplating clearing more in rural markets. 

Were we to implement a plan that does not accommodate market variation, we could be forced to limit the spectrum available in all markets to the relatively small amount available in the most constrained market (e.g., Constrained Market 2 in the diagram above).  Consumers in all the other markets across the country would then be deprived of access to spectrum that could have been repurposed for mobile broadband.  There would also be less money going to the US Treasury and to FirstNet, the planned mobile broadband network for emergency responders.  In the worst case, the auction might not close because there would be insufficient funds to pay broadcasters to relocate or give up spectrum rights. 

This would not be an acceptable result for the American public.  So we are studying all of the band plans - and looking at the details - to ensure the incentive auction will be a success: with the maximum spectrum made available to meet the growing needs of consumers and enough funds to meet the objectives set by Congress.