The Federal Communications Commission attracted intense public attention Thursday for a controversial vote on a new net-neutrality proposal.
But the FCC also voted on another important issue that will shape the future of the telecommunications and broadcast TV industries. The agency enacted rules for a plan that would provide more airwaves for cell-phone carriers, which would allow for smoother Web browsing, higher-quality videos, and fewer dropped calls.
Under the plan, the FCC will buy back broadcast licenses from TV stations and auction them to the cell-phone industry. The program is voluntary, but some local TV stations around the country are expected to take the payout and go off the air.
In an attempt to boost competition in the wireless industry, the FCC will curb the ability of Verizon and AT&T to bid for spectrum — the frequencies that carry all wireless signals. The rules are a big leg up for Sprint and T-Mobile, the smaller of the four national carriers.
The commission Democrats argued that the limits are necessary to keep the industry's two giants from dominating the auction and accumulating enough spectrum to kill off competition and raise prices. Without enough spectrum, a carrier's network would become congested, leading customers to flee to competitors.