Statement of FCC Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn
Before the Committee on Energy and Commerce
Subcommittee on Communications and Technology
United States House of Representatives
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Chairman Walden, Ranking Member Waxman, and distinguished Representatives, good morning.
Thank you for the opportunity to discuss spectrum policy and the efforts of the Federal Communications
Commission to implement the historic legislation you passed in February of this year.
Over the past few years, consumer demand for wireless services has been increasing at a startling
pace and the Nation needs legislation and regulation that can promote deployment of services. It’s hard to
believe that when I first started at the Commission in the summer of 2009, tablet devices had not yet been
introduced to the U. S. consumer. And now, according to the most recent data for this year, 22 percent of
American adults now own such a device. That figure is up from 11 percent in 2011. When you consider
these statistics, with the fact that tablets consume 121 times more spectrum than ordinary cellphones, you
immediately realize that our Nation’s demand for wireless spectrum is on such an exponential trajectory
that two elements of spectrum management have become critical policy priorities. First, we must find
quicker ways to repurpose spectrum for commercial mobile services. Second, we must promote more
efficient uses of spectrum.
Congress understood this when it passed, on a bipartisan basis, the Middle Class Tax Relief and
Job Creation Act of 2012. The plain language of the spectrum management and public safety
communications sections of that Act make clear that, through a voluntary incentive auction, Congress was
giving the Commission authority to find a quicker tool to reallocate spectrum from broadcast TV services
to wireless services. Congress directed that the incentive auction of broadcast television spectrum have
three major pieces: a “reverse auction” in which broadcast television licensees submit bids to voluntarily
relinquish spectrum usage rights in exchange for payments; a reorganization, or “repacking” of the
broadcast television bands in order to free up a portion of the ultra-high frequency (UHF) band for other
uses; and a “forward auction” of initial licenses for flexible use of the newly available spectrum. For
those broadcast TV licensees who want to continue to use their spectrum to provide those services, the
Act mandates that the Commission make all reasonable efforts to preserve, as of the date of the enactment
of this Act, the coverage area and population served of each broadcast television licensee.
The Act also had clear directives for the proceeds from the forward auction. The Act requires
that the incentive auction result in proceeds that are greater than the sum of the total amount of
compensation the Commission must pay successful bidders in the reverse auction, the cost of
administering the broadcast television spectrum incentive auction, and the estimated amount of the
relocation cost reimbursements. The first $1.75 billion of the proceeds would go into a fund to repay
broadcast TV licensees reasonably incurred costs for being required to change frequencies as a result of
the repack process. The rest of the proceeds would be deposited in the Public Safety Trust Fund to fund a
national first responder network, state and local public safety grants, public safety research, and national
Congress also gave the Commission authority to promote the use of unlicensed spectrum. The
Act allows the Commission to implement guard bands that are technically reasonable to prevent harmful
interference between licensed services outside the guard bands. The statute also permits the use of such
guard bands for unlicensed use.
I am pleased to report that the Commission has been moving carefully but expeditiously to
comply with both the spirit and plain language of all the mandates in the Act. I also particularly
appreciate that the Commission staff members has been proactive in seeking the active engagement of the
public and all stakeholders. They began conducting webinars and workshops even before Congress
passed the Spectrum Act and it plans to hold several more such events throughout this proceeding. In
addition, FCC staff members have been trying to implement these statutory directives with the same
bipartisan approach that resulted in Congress passing the Act. Just two months after its enactment, a
unanimous, three-member Commission released an Order that set some basic ground rules for preparing
for incentive auctions. For example, it identified the specific broadcast TV licensees who may participate
in channel sharing and clarifies that channel sharing will be voluntary and flexible.
This past September, the Commission, this time at full complement, unanimously adopted a
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that sought comment on the full range of procedural and technical rules
that the Commission would have to adopt to conduct the voluntary incentive auctions. That Notice
proposes a band plan, with six megahertz guard bands, that meet specific requirements that they be no
larger than technically reasonable to prevent harmful interference between licensed services. It seeks
comment on the plan and asks the public to provide alternative band plans.
I believe it was important for the NPRM to propose a band plan with an appropriate balance of
unlicensed and licensed spectrum. Unlicensed spectrum plays a critical role in advancing more efficient
use of spectrum, and commercial wireless carriers are increasingly using unlicensed Wi-Fi services and
small cell architecture to offload their smartphone traffic. In November of last year, the Consumer
Federation of America found that unlicensed Wi-Fi offload resulted in wireless carriers not having to
construct 130,000 cell sites. This resulted in annual cost savings of more than 25 billion dollars. The
unlicensed spectrum proposals in the NPRM would also encourage development of wireless services that
can make effective use of unused spectrum, or White Spaces, in broadcast TV bands. In addition,
promoting continued innovation in the unlicensed service industry is important to our National economy.
As Representatives Anna Eshoo and Darryl Issa pointed out in a letter they presented to ensure the Act
contained statutory provisions for unlicensed spectrum use, it is estimated that unlicensed spectrum
generates between 16 and 37 billion dollars each year for the U.S. economy.
The Incentive Auction Notice also appropriately seeks comment on ways the Commission could
design the incentive auction to accomplish all the funding goals of the Act including funds for a national
first responder network. I believe the public safety goals of the Act are very important. When Congress
created the FCC in 1934, it made one of the Commission’s foundational obligations “the promotion of
safety of life and property through the use of wire and radio communications.” The devastation and
service outages caused by Derecho and Super Storm Sandy show that obligation remains as vital today as
it did almost eighty years ago. We may not be able to prevent natural disasters, but we can and must
improve our Nation’s ability to respond to these events. Doing our best to make First Net successful
would go a long way toward enhancing our responses to these crises.
Thank you for allowing me to make these opening remarks. I look forward to your questions.