A breath of fresh airwavesyou want
The scramble for spectrum could reshape America's telecoms industry
JULIUS GENACHOWSKI, the head of America's Federal Communications Commission, has called wireless spectrum the oxygen that sustains our mobile devices.
Yet unlike oxygen, the airwaves over which telecoms companies transmit their wireless signals are in ever shorter supply.
According to the FCC's calculations,
America needs to make 300 megahertz of additional spectrum available by 2014 to avoid a crunch that drives up consumers' mobile-phone bills and holds back innovation.
Some critics reckon the regulator's projections are too pessimistic.
But telecoms firms say an explosion of wireless data triggered by smartphones and tablet computers is indeed soaking up capacity fast.
Hence the scramble for more airwaves.
On December 2nd Verizon Wireless, the country's largest mobile operator, announced a $3.6 billion deal to buy spectrum from several cable-television companies.
AT&T, another telecoms behemoth, has been telling anyone who will listen that its $39 billion bid for T-Mobile USA, a smaller rival, should be approved in part because it would ease a capacity headache:
AT&T has plenty of capital but needs more spectrum, while T-Mobile has the airwaves but lacks the capital to exploit them fully.
The snag is that allowing AT&T and T-Mobile to merge would stifle competition in the wireless market—which is why both the Department of Justice and the FCC oppose it.
AT&T and Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile's German parent, have pledged to fight on, but the merger's chances are slim. Verizon's deal,
AT&T 和 T-Mobile 的母公司德国电信已承诺会继续争取，但合并的希望渺茫。
by contrast, will probably be cleared by the FCC, which must approve transfers of licensed spectrum.
Could more wireless capacity be liberated from other businesses that do not need it?
The FCC thinks so.
It has come up with a proposal to persuade TV companies to part with some of their airwaves.
It would solicit spectrum from broadcasters and then repackage it into larger lots to be sold in an auction.
The revenue raised would be shared between the government and the broadcasters.
The FCC thinks this could release up to 120MHz of TV broadcast spectrum.
TV companies could instead sell their holdings to telecoms companies directly.
But this would probably mean lots of tiny, fragmented packets of airwaves changing hands.
Wireless operators will pay more for large, contiguous parcels of spectrum, which is why the FCC wants to orchestrate the process.
Legislation to give it permission to do so is making its way through Congress.
It may be passed by the end of the year.
But some broadcasters have given warning that the plan could hurt some stations.
We're concerned this will have unintended consequences, says Alan Frank, the chief executive of Post-Newsweek Stations, which has operations in Detroit, San Antonio and other cities.
Alan Frank是Post-Newsweek 电视台的首席执行官，该台在底特律，圣安东尼奥及其他城市均设有业务，他说：我们担心这项举措会产生意想不到的后果。
TV folk fret that the FCC wants to be able to force stations to swap channels if necessary, even if they do not take part in the auction, so that it can create attractive parcels.
This will raise their costs and could lead to the disappearance of some stations in cities near the Mexican and Canadian borders, where TV spectrum is already limited.
Such concerns can be dealt with.
Legislators are likely to create a fund to compensate broadcasters who have to move channels.
And they will probably require the FCC to try hard to preserve existing TV coverage when it repackages airwaves.
Congress's enthusiasm to get something done is understandable.
For one thing, an auction will raise billions of dollars for the public purse.
For another, it will create jobs by encouraging firms to invest in their networks.
Failure to act would send the wrong signal to one of America's fastest-growing industries.