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Acting FCC Chairwoman: We're still focused on spectrum

Mignon Clyburn, who recently took over as interim chairwoman, said leadership transition will not slow down agency's efforts.

Mignon Clyburn made her first public appearance as interim FCC chair at CTIA's 2013 spring show.
CNET/Marguerite Reardon

LAS VEGAS -- Acting Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn said that the agency is not slowing down when it comes to getting new spectrum on the market, even though the commission is down two members.

Clyburn, who made her first appearance as the interim head of the FCC at the CTIA Wireless Association's opening keynote, reassured the wireless industry that the FCC will continue to make more spectrum available, even as the agency prepares for a new full-time chairman and awaits the nomination of a Republican commissioner.

"The FCC wireless agenda remains focused," she said. "The national broadband plan put the issue of spectrum on the map. And the agency is doing a lot to make more spectrum available."

She said the FCC is on target to move forward with several efforts that will bring additional licensed and unlicensed airwaves into the market, including the upcoming incentive spectrum auction.

Authorized by Congress more than a year ago, the incentive auction will allow TV broadcasters to sell unused wireless spectrum to mobile broadband providers. In exchange, the participating broadcasters will get a cut of the proceeds.

The auction is a complicated one to design because it involves allowing broadcasters to free up spectrum, as well as selling that spectrum to companies interested in using it for mobile broadband.

Clyburn took over as chairwoman after Chairman Julius Genachowski stepped down earlier this month. President Obama has nominated a new chairman, Tom Wheeler, but Congress has yet to confirm his nomination. FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell also has left the commission, leaving only one Republican on the five-person commission. The White House has not yet nominated a new Republican commissioner.

Some people, including CTIA President and CEO Steve Largent, have expressed concern that the transition of FCC leadership might slow down efforts to bring new spectrum to market, particularly the upcoming incentive auction. But Clyburn reassured him that operations are moving at full steam.

"We are moving full speed ahead during this time of transition," she said. "And the work we are doing on incentive auction remains on track."

In addition to the incentive auction, Clyburn mentioned the agency's other spectrum efforts, including auctioning 10MHz worth of spectrum in the PCS H Block. The H Block spectrum that will be auctioned off sits next to the satellite spectrum that was repurposed for wireless broadband. Congress set a deadline of year's end for an auction of this spectrum. Clyburn said the agency is "on course" to get this auction going.

She also mentioned the FCC's efforts to work with government agencies to share wireless airwaves in various spectrum bands, including spectrum used by the Department of Defense. She mentioned the FCC's efforts to free up more unlicensed "white space" spectrum, as well as the agency's efforts to make 40MHz of spectrum available for inflight Wi-Fi services.

She concluded her speech by emphasizing the agency's efforts to help struggling smaller carriers compete against bigger players. Clyburn said the agency will continue to look out for these little guys, and she gently warned bigger wireless companies that the FCC will continue to be vigilant in protecting competition.

"We have taken a light regulatory touch," she said. "But we've taken a touch when needed."