FCC: TV Airwaves May Improve Clogged Mobile Networks

04/22/2011 08:44 pm ET | Updated Jun 22, 2011

Federal Communications Commission chief Julius Genachowski told Washington D.C.'s Economic Club on Wednesday that the dwindling electromagnetic spectrum available to wireless carriers has led to a spectrum crunch that is causing dropped cell phone calls and poor reception nationwide.

The rapid adoption of smartphones and tablets has driven a huge demand for mobile data, and the FCC argues that unless wireless companies have more access to spectrum, the U.S. could fall behind in global communication.

The FCC's solution is to get television broadcasters to voluntarily sell some of their airwave space to the highest bidder.

"The single biggest thing we can do to free up contiguous, high quality spectrum for mobile broadband is incentive auctions," Genachowski said, according to Reuters.

The plan requires broadcasters to forfeit 120 megahertz of spectrum, which would create 22 percent more space for the crush of data from cellphones and wireless devices, writes the New York Times.

"The F.C.C. wants broadcasting spectrum because those wavelengths are particularly hearty — they travel well through buildings, an advantage for mobile smartphones," the Times reports.

But broadcasters aren't exactly leaping at the opportunity.

"We are not going to volunteer. Spectrum is our lifeblood," CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves told the Times.

AT&T recently admitted to the FCC that data traffic from popular mobile devices, like the iPhone, was gobbling up available wireless spectrum. The carrier hopes that its proposed merger with T-Mobile will improve service.

However, Genachowski warned on Wednesday that AT&T's problems may indicate a larger trend.

"The math that drives the spectrum crunch is aggregate demand from all consumers in the U.S. compared to aggregate supply of spectrum," he said, according to Reuters. "We have to free up new spectrum for mobile broadband in order to close the gap between aggregate demand and aggregate supply."

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