Wireless group proposes aggressive timeline for spectrum auctions

The wireless industry is proposing an aggressive timetable for putting into effect a bill that would free up more spectrum for phones, tablet computers and other wireless technologies.

The timeline outlined Thursday by the wireless industry group CTIA calls on the FCC to grant licenses for new chunks of spectrum by mid-2014.

The spectrum legislation enacted last month as part of a payroll tax cut package authorizes the FCC to offer money to broadcasters to give up some of their airwaves for wireless use.

The law calls on the FCC to conduct two types of auctions. The first "reverse" auction would be for broadcasters in desired markets to offer bids on how much money they would be willing to take to give up their spectrum and get out of the business, or to share spectrum with another station.

The second "forward" auction would be for wireless operators who want to bid on the spectrum relinquished by broadcasters. Some of the proceeds from these forward auctions would go to pay off the broadcasters and fund other proposals in the spectrum law.

CTIA said it would like the FCC to launch the process for the forward auctions in May. The group did not suggest a timeline for conducting the "reverse" auction for broadcasters. In aggressively pushing for legislation authorizing these "incentive auctions," wireless operators argued that they are facing a looming shortage of spectrum, particularly in some of the biggest metropolitan areas. Given this, they say they want to see the process move as quickly as possible.

"While the proposed plan and timelines contained in this letter are aggressive, CTIA believes that the Commission must set an accelerated timeframe if it is to comply with its own goal of bringing 300 MHz of spectrum to market by 2015," CTIA CEO Steve Largent said in a letter Thursday to the FCC. The FCC has been charged with designing and conducting the auctions authorized by the spectrum law.

CTIA sent a similar letter to the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which manages the nation's spectrum inventory. CTIA urged the NTIA to move quickly to identify government spectrum that could be freed up for use by mobile operators.

The National Association of Broadcasters, whose members must now decide whether they want to give up their airwaves, has been skeptical of the wireless industry's claim that a spectrum crisis is looming and chided CTIA's proposed timeline.

"Conveniently, CTIA left off its FCC list of proposed timetables the most important of all: a deadline for a complete inventory of warehoused spectrum being hoarded by CTIA members," NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said.