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@ CES: Genachowski: Spectrum Crunch Crippling Wireless

The government needs to free up more spectrum to help boost the economy and avoid consumer backlash, warned FCC commissioner Julius Genachowski in a keynote address at CES on Friday.

“We’re in the early stages of a mobile revolution that is sparking an explosion in wireless traffic,” said Genachowski. “Without action, demand for spectrum will soon outstrip supply.”

Echoing a central point in President Barack Obama’s National Broadband Plan, Genachowski touted the benefits of a voluntary incentive auction that would see broadcasters compensated for returning or sharing portions of the 300 megahertz they were allotted. A bill introduced to the House of Representatives late last year, Voluntary Incentive Auctions Act of 2010, has been criticized by broadcasters who fear losing spectrum could damage their digital transmissions.

Genachowski touched on the many aspects of the consumer-electronics industry that could face “disastrous consequences” if the NBP’s targeted goal of 500 megahertz is not allotted by 2020, including the emergence of tablet devices and internet-connected sensors.

Genachowski had plenty of statistics to share that provide some context on just how huge the expected growth of the wireless market in the U.S. is. He alluded to the release earlier in the day of the FCC labs’s first report on wireless trends, which found 50% of wireless devices now contain three or more wireless transmitters — a 700 percent increase from 2008. He also cited an FCC forecast of a 35-fold increase in mobile traffic over the next five years, a projection he characterized as conservative.

While he praised the U.S. for the strides it has taken to date, from completing the digital TV transition before many other countries to taking a leading role in the development of 4G wireless, Genachowski cautioned that now is not the time to lose momentum. “A head start does not guarantee a win,” he said.

In a conversation with CEA president Gary Shapiro following his speech, Genachowski touched on a range of issues that involve the FCC, including reform for the universal service fund and disabilities law. He did not, however, touch on the FCC’s recent drive to push network neutrality legislation or the pending approval of the Comcast-NBC Universal merger.

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