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Groups debate wireless spectrum plans

Regulatory and industry groups gather at a conference to discuss the FCC's plan to improve spectrum use to make way for wireless broadband.

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Those with a vested interest in the future of wireless broadband met here to discuss plans to improve spectrum use and to make way for the wider adoption of the technology.

Representatives of the Federal Communications Commission, the Wireless Communications Association International (WCA) industry group and others spoke Thursday during a panel discussion on the FCC's plans to streamline spectrum use. The federal agency has been looking to promote the use of wireless technology as a third viable broadband option to cable and DSL (digital subscriber line) service, as it tries to meet President Bush's bold challenge to make high-speed Internet access available to all Americans by 2007.

"We are at a seminal point in the life of this spectrum, and we have to manage it to the maximum benefit of the U.S. public," said John Muleta, chief of the FCC Wireless Telecommunications Bureau.

Radio spectrum is a finite resource that the agency is looking to more efficiently manage. The FCC is expected to discuss and possibly vote on the proposed management of spectrum in the 2.5GHz to 2.69GHz range at its monthly meeting on June 10. Its agenda for the meeting will be available late Thursday.

"Over the years, unlocking the value of this spectrum has been incredibly difficult," said Paul J. Sinderbrand, WCA counsel.

Altering spectrum regulations will is not be an easy process. The allocation of spectrum has been a particularly touchy issue in the technology and communications industries. With new wireless technologies on the way, such as EvDO (Evolution Data Only) and WiMax, issues like interference and limited range will likely become more of a problem.

FCC commissioners and others have expressed concern that the spectrum has been underutilized. Furthermore, current spectrum licensees fear that their spectrum might be taken away. Some licensees agreed that the spectrum has not been used to its fullest potential but said regulations have limited them.

"This spectrum has suffered from overregulation and too many restrictions," Todd Rowley, vice president of spectrum management at Sprint, said to the packed room of conference attendees. "We need to eliminate unnecessary restrictions."

Still, carving out a significant amount of radio spectrum specifically for wireless broadband technologies like WiMax will be vital to their growth.

"Regulation is crucial to getting wireless broadband to the public," said Ronald J. Resnick, president of the WiMax Forum and director of marketing at Intel. "Data throughput is matched to how much spectrum is allocated to a technology."

The FCC has already been working to reallocate some spectrum for broadcast television to wireless.