Every city will soon see a transfer of airwave spectrum from broadcast TV to wireless Internet providers, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said today at the CES consumer electronics confab — 84 days before a long-awaited auction takes place.
Broadcasters have until Tuesday to say whether they’ll offer some of their local air rights for the auction. As an incentive, the FCC has offered to share some of the proceeds from the sale.
“You’ll see a spectrum extravaganza,” Wheeler said of the plan. “That is going to be transformational.” He calls the broadcast airwaves “beachfront spectrum” due to its ability to reach big audiences, and penetrate walls. “This is opportunity, opportunity, opportunity.”
He added that “this is not bureaucrats sitting around divvying things up. This is the marketplace.”
Last year, Wheeler made news at CES by strongly hinting that he would reclassify the Internet as a so-called Title II regulated communications service to overcome legal challenges to net neutrality. The FCC ultimately did so, and now is defending itself against suits from broadband carriers who say that the agency overstepped its authority.
“He got people interested,” Wheeler says. “John Oliver took the ultimate arcane issue — Title II — and made it something that got people interested….And that’s good.”
Open Internet rules are needed so that manufacturers and service providers don’t have to go to cable and phone companies and “ask for permission” to introduce products and innovations.
Wheeler calls this “an incredibly unique time in history” and sees an opportunity for the FCC to promote Internet competition and expand its use.