Later this year, the federal government plans to auction off spectrum -- the invisible airwaves that have brought us radio and television service -- as part of the transition from analog to digital TV broadcasts. The Federal Communications Commission is right now developing rules for how that auction will proceed. As the LA Times recently editorialized:
The FCC's goal for the auction should be to encourage the development of more broadband Internet services. So much of the economy's potential depends on high-speed Internet access, yet the U.S. lags many Asian and European countries in the percentage of broadband users.
We couldn't agree more. In the United States, spectrum traditionally has been allocated in a fragmented, inefficient manner. As a result, entities find it increasingly difficult to secure the spectrum they need to provide end users with advanced Internet applications over fixed and mobile broadband networks. Google has joined together with several other technology companies in the "Coalition for 4G in America" to advocate a few basic auction rules that would help foster national market entry by innovative new players. As the Times put it:
The commission should heed recommendations from high-tech and satellite TV firms, which say a 10% increase in the size of the current plan's blocks would allow for more types of wireless broadband technology. Having more sources of broadband is particularly important in rural areas, where high-speed Internet service has been scarce. The rules should also allow bidders to offer a premium for a national set of licenses, which would encourage the creation of national broadband networks while deterring present broadband suppliers from hoarding the airwaves in a single region. Those suppliers might still try to buy national licenses and offer services that don't compete with their DSL offerings.
By structuring the upcoming auction in this way, the FCC could take a big step forward to promoting both competition and high-tech innovation...steps that one day could make broadband much more affordable and readily available to consumers across the country.