FCC Chair Hypes Spectrum Auction at CTIA

By Nicholas Carlson

March 27, 2007

So many flashy phones at CTIA, so little broadband access. But FCC chairman says that will change.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Kevin Martin took the stage and promised mobile's broadband limitation could soon change.

This is good news for executives at wireless service providers, handheld device makers and networking gear specialists.

There's only one problem hollowing out the hype: The broadband connections that American Internet users are so used to at home and at work are not yet nearly so accessible via mobile devices.

In February 2006, Congress passed legislation that sets Feb. 17, 2009, as the end of analog broadcasting in the United States. After that, television sets must have digital tuners to receive an over-the-air signal.

That will leave the analog spectrum currently occupied by broadcasters open for a new type of wireless Internet. Martin said the FCC plans to auction off that part of the spectrum the end of the 2007.

Wireless broadband providers are expected to be the primary bidders. And to their great benefit, Martin said.

He said the spectrum has the capability to provide data services in a much more efficient manner than current broadband and that it is more easily able to penetrate walls and cover greater distances at lower power.

"Making sure we get that spectrum out into the marketplace in a very efficient manner and move forward with that auction is critical," Martin said, referring to efforts in Washington to delay the transition over concerns of cost to consumers.

The new spectrum, Martin said, "is going to be very important for the wireless industry. I think it's going to be very important for consumers to develop that type of broadband competition."

The executives who followed Martin to the CTIA keynote stage are betting on it.

AT&T COO Randall L. Stephenson touted his company's efforts at convergence on the mobile device. To illustrate his point, Stephenson brought an Apple iPhone on stage and did his best Steve Jobs impersonation as he handled the all-in-on video player, music player, browser and phone.

Stephenson explained how his company had already received 1 million requests from consumers who want to be notified as soon as the device hits the market.

But at one point, between video demos of new products and bold predictions typical of CTIA, Stephenson acknowledged, "Broadband access is the key to all of this."

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