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FCC's Genachowski to Congress: We need our auctions

While speaking at CES 2012 in Las Vegas, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski pushes the need for universal broadband and the incentive auctions to make it happen.

Gary Shapiro (left) talks with Julius Genachowski Kent German/CNET

LAS VEGAS--If Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski has his way, the United State would have universal broadband coverage by the end of the decade. And if we really has his way, his agency will be able to reallocate the needed wireless spectrum as it sees fit.

"As you know we've asked Congress to give the FCC the authority to conduct incentive auctions," he said while speaking here today at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show. "My message on incentive auctions today is simple: we need to get it done now, and we need to get it done right."

Genachowski used much of his speech to forcefully push for the auctions, which would encourage television broadcasters to return unused wireless spectrum to the FCC. Then, once that spectrum is sold through a new auction, the broadcasters would get a cut of the proceeds as compensation.

"Because we would realign the spectrum, the spectrum we auction would have far greater value than the spectrum we'd receive, generating about $25 billion in cash for the Treasury," he said.

Both the Obama Administration and wireless providers are supporting the FCC's plans, but broadcasters are pushing back by insisting that they be entirely voluntary.

Though Genachowski didn't mention broadcasters, he called on Congress to let the agency proceed with the auctions without supervision and that it be allowed to reallocate unlicensed spectrum for use. He specifically mentioned a recent letter from by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), and Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA.) who wrote that "Congress should defer to the FCC to make the proper determination of optimizing the allocation of spectrum given the dynamic nature of the industry and wireless technologies."

"Any restrictions would be a real mistake," he said. "And the consequences of a mistake are greater than in the past."

If no action is taken, and the United States loses its leadership role in broadband deployment, the country could lose its place as the most attractive market in the world for apps and services, Genachowski warned.

Genachowski repeated these points later in the hour-long session when he sat down for a question-and-answer session with Shapiro. Yet, he also addressed a question from Shapiro on what the industry can learn from the unsuccessful merger of AT&T and T-Mobile.

"The core lesson is that it's a reminder to all of us of the benefits and power of competition," he said. "And investment and innovation is driven by competition."