Saturday, February 12, 2011

Obama lays out plan for wireless Internet expansion

His administration has endorsed making 500 megahertz of wireless airwaves, or spectrum, available over the next decade to meet the growing demand for broadband services, including the widely popular Apple iPad and proliferation of smartphones.

The Federal Communications Commission hopes to "repurpose" 120 megahertz of spectrum through incentive auctions where television broadcasters would voluntarily give up spectrum in exchange for a portion of the auction proceeds.

"By selling private companies the rights to these airwaves, we won't just encourage private investment and expand wireless access; we'll actually going to bring in revenues that lower our deficits," Obama said.

The White House said it expects those auctions and more efficient use of government spectrum to raise $27.8 billion over the next decade. That figure is an estimate, however, and could end up lower or higher depending on the success of the auctioning process.

Congress must pass legislation to give the FCC the authority to conduct the incentive auctions. There could be resistance from lawmakers if they fear the auctions could apply undue pressure to broadcasters in their districts to give up spectrum.

In addition to the fund to help rural areas, Obama proposes putting $3 billion from those proceeds toward "research and development of emerging wireless technologies and applications," the White House said in a statement ahead of the president's trip.

Another $9.6 billion from the proceeds would be applied to curbing the deficit, a key goal of Obama's next two years in office and a top demand from Republicans, who control the House of Representatives and will likely make deficit reduction a high profile topic in the 2012 presidential campaign.

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