In a bid to open up frequencies for digital phone and data streams, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unanimously voted on Friday in favor of a proposal to buy back spectrum from television broadcasters to redistribute to wireless carriers.
The proposal is largely motivated by recent research released by the FCC indicating that "mobile broadband traffic will increase more than thirtyfold by 2015." In order to prepare for the largest influx of wireless signals ever in the United States, the FCC is hoping to redistribute the airwaves to avoid poor signal quality and dropped calls.
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"We're in a global bandwidth race," said Julius Genachowski, chairman of the FCC. "It's similar to the space race in that success will unleash waves of innovation that will go a long way toward determining who leads our global economy in the 21st century."
As the vote implies, innovation in the wireless broadcast space is still limited by available spectrum, and the voluntary sale of the television broadcasting frequencies is one of the first major movements to efficiently organize spectrum users from different industries.
According to the commission, the final auction of the broadcasting space wouldn't take place until 2014, but it's estimated that it could net $15 billion. Some of those dividends would be paid out to the television broadcasters who participate, and around $7 billion is proposed to go towards a "nationwide emergency communications network" first conceived of by the 9/11 Commission.
The plan will only work if television broadcasting companies play ball, and some of the major networks (including CBS, according to The New York Times) have already confirmed that they will not be giving up any of their spectrum.
Also in play is the potential redistribution of spectrum following the sale of frequencies from multiple industries, which could reserve the premium waves for the larger companies. Small mobile carriers have already voiced concern about this dividing of digital kingdoms, despite the sometimes crippling impact of frequency-limiting legislation written over ten years ago.