Shake It Off, Taylor Swift’s Spectrum Advice

Our Love Story begins in 2009. As part of the National Broadband Plan, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had a bold idea to fix what it foresaw as a looming spectrum crunch for wireless broadband service. The FCC would broker an auction/exchange between television broadcasters and wireless carriers, and shuffle channels around as necessary. In other words, the wireless industry saw broadcast spectrum and said, “You Belong With Me.

But how much spectrum should be moved from television to mobile broadband? Nobody knew. Wildly optimistic predictions about the demand for mobile spectrum fueled visions of reallocating as much as 144 MHz of spectrum away from television broadcasters. Others, however, wondered if the auction would succeed at all. When it came time for the FCC to change the frequency allocations, there was only one conclusion: put everything on the table. So, in 2015, when the FCC adopted rules for the incentive auction, it put a Blank Space where the number of MHz to be allocated for wireless broadband would go. And, just in case its Wildest Dreams came true, the Wheeler FCC also made a dual allocation (for both TV and wireless broadband) across the entire UHF TV band domestically, and also lobbied for changes to the international table of frequency allocations at the 2015 World Radio Conference.

In 2017, the incentive auction closed, with 84 MHz being reallocated from television stations to wireless carriers. While the auction was a success, the anemic bidding in late rounds, lower than expected prices per MHz-pop, and unsold spectrum blocks in large markets like Los Angeles and San Diego suggests a complete lack of lingering demand. So, with all of the questions now answered, the FCC said, “Look What You Made Me Do” to the industries and removed the wireless allocation from spectrum at 512-608 MHz, as well as the broadcast allocation from 614 MHz and above.

Now, in 2018, it is time to go back to the International Telecommunications Union and update the international spectrum tables once again. The market has spoken. Everything has Changed. There is no reason to keep a wireless allocation below 608 MHz. For the wireless companies to keep a claim to something they have no intention to use is pure greed. That spectrum is for broadcasting Forever and Always. This is our End Game.