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FCC Chair Pushes Mobile Broadband

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski says deploying 4G wireless networks quickly is key to driving innovation and taking advantage of mobile broadband.
Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski says one way to help change the nation's status as a broadband laggard among industrialized nations is to deploy 4G wireless networks as quickly as possible.

During an on-stage interview Wednesday at The Wall Street Journal's D8 tech conference, Genachowski acknowledged that Americans pay too much for broadband service that is slower than what exists in other advanced nations. Worst of all, a recent survey of 40 industrialized nations ranks the U.S. at the bottom in terms of the speed in which it is moving to improve the situation.

"That's the canary in the coal mine," Genachowski told WSJ tech reporter Walt Mossberg.

To help fix the problem, Genachowski said the nation had to continue to focus on deploying 4G wireless networks as quickly as possible. The U.S. was one of the first nations to start deploying the successor to today's 3G networks.

"Unleashing mobile is one of the most important if not the most important thing we can do," Genachowski said. "The biggest opportunity over the next decade to drive innovation, to drive broadband's success, to drive competition in broadband, which will help on prices and many other things, is to take advantage of mobile broadband."

Of course, certain hurdles will have to be jumped first. One major problem is having enough spectrum to handle the increasing number of bandwidth-hungry smartphones, tablet computers and other devices being added to networks.

While current government policies are expected to eventually free up three times the amount of spectrum available today, studies show that at the current rate of demand for mobile broadband, 30 to 40 times the spectrum will be needed, Genachowski said. To meet the challenge, the government needs to institute "smart policies" to take full advantage of available spectrum.

"There's enough available if we put in place smart polices to improve the picture," the chairman said. "We've got to work on spectrum policies that themselves generate greater efficiency."

One way to ease the pending congestion is to create new and better secondary markets to offload traffic, he said.

Genachowski in the past has pointed to how well Wi-Fi use has added unlicensed spectrum to the national mix, making it possible to offload from carriers' networks as much as 40% of traffic in the home. He also supports reallocating existing spectrum to 4G deployments.

During the D8 interview, Genachowski called for changing the Universal Service Fund, which spends $8 billion a year to provide telephone service throughout the nation. The FCC created the fund in 1997 to meet requirements of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Genachowski said the fund should be used to support broadband communications not telephone service. "It's crazy not to do it," he said.