The 700

Later this year, the FCC will auction off 60 MHz of wireless spectrum in the 700 MHz band, which is being freed up by the relocation of UHF television stations. The 700 MHz auction has been repeatedly delayed for years due to political battles, but under current law, the FCC must conduct the auction before January 2008.

This may all sound like more obscure FCC wonkery, but it’s a big deal if you care about the future of the Internet and broadband. (I was reminded of this by a recent report from the always insightful Blair Levin, a former FCC colleague who is now a research analyst for an investment bank.) Radio waves at lower frequencies like these propagate better. So, the 700 MHz band is ideal for services that cover a large area, including penetrating trees and walls. Like TV, of course, but unlike the shorter-range cellular phone and WiFi services of today. Moreover, the auction is attracting several radically new proposals for how the spectrum would be used.

One proposal, which the FCC itself is floating, is to allow unlicensed use of the so-called “white spaces” around the licensed frequencies. This would be a huge boon to all sorts of wireless innovation and new services. Some other proposals, not mutually exclusive, are coming from the private sector. Cyren Call and Frontline Wireless, two companies led by my fellow FCC alumni (Morgan O’Brien in one case, Reed Hundt in the other), have novel proposals for combining public safety and commercial uses to take advantage of the new spectrum. And we could well see other novel ideas come out of the woodwork as bidders start to line up for the auction.

Pay attention to this one.