The FCC voted 5-0 in favor of opening underused TV broadcast spectrum to the wireless industry at its November open meeting yesterday.

The proposed rules set the stage for voluntary auctions of underused spectrum currently held by television broadcasters. The spectrum would go toward alleviating the looming spectrum crunch faced by the wireless industry.

Under the agency's proposed rules, television broadcasters would be able to sell off underused spectrum assets for use in mobile broadband services.

The proposal (Docket No. 10-235) allows broadcasters to sell off their spectrum assets and gives wireless operators equal access to those broadcast frequencies when they become available in spectrum auctions. The proposed rules also look for ways to deliver both fixed and mobile wireless services in television broadcast bands, and the FCC voted to investigate ways broadcasters can share channels and improve reception on VHF channels (2-13).

"The explosive growth in mobile communications threatens to outpace the infrastructure on which it relies," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said. "I've said this before, but it bears repeating and emphasis: If we don't act to update our spectrum policies for the 21st century, we're going to run into a wall – a spectrum crunch – that will stifle American innovation and economic growth and cost us the opportunity to lead the world in mobile communications."

Genachowski characterized the FCC's proposal as "fair" to broadcasters and said the incentive auctions would improve mobile broadband service and could "yield significant revenue" for the U.S. Treasury.

CTIA President and CEO Steve Largent praised the FCC's move, calling the action "another important step to ensuring that we can meet America's growing demand for mobile Internet access at anytime and anywhere."

"Bringing this spectrum to market will allow our members to bid for the right to purchase it, resulting in billions of dollars for the U.S. Treasury and enabling the wireless industry to continue to invest and fuel our 'virtuous cycle' of innovation and competition," Largent said. "Today's vote was important to our industry so we can continue to assist our nation's economic recovery and so we can meet consumers' demands for mobile broadband."

In addition to the incentive auction vote, the FCC also introduced two proposals on experimental licensing. The first proposal (Docket No. 10-236) would offer three new types of licenses for use in research and health care, which would give qualified entities broad authority to conduct research without the need to seek new approval for each individual experiment. The proposal also looks into ways to streamline and clarify the existing rules that support conventional experimentation.

The second proposal (Docket No. 10-237) examines "dynamic access" radios and techniques, which use technology to make more efficient use of spectrum resources. The FCC is looking for ways to advance these technologies, whether by creating testbeds or modifying spectrum management practices and policies for future uses of both licensed and unlicensed devices and services.