What the spectrum auction means for you and me

Wireless companies may soon be able to buy more airwaves under a spectrum auction that will help pay for the payroll tax cut extension and other jobless benefits. What's the idea behind the auction?

Adriene Hill: Lawmakers are near a deal that would extend the payroll tax cut and extend unemployment benefits. The cost is somewhere in the neighborhood of $140 billion. They are hoping to help pay for it by auctioning off spectrum -- that's the airwave wireless phone companies want to speed up their networks. To help us make sense of the news we've got Politico tech reporter Tony Romm with us now. Good morning.

Tony Romm: Good morning.

Hill: So let's start with the basics here. What is this spectrum we're going to auction? What are we talking about?

Romm: We're talking about the lifeblood for wireless companies -- those invisible airwaves that allow your iPhones and BlackBerrys and Androids to be able to access the Internet and to share email. As millions and millions more Americans and others begin to use smartphones and try to download more and more data, there's been a crunch. So wireless carriers have looked to the federal government to free up more spectrum while at the same time the federal government has looked to unleash those airwaves as one way to raise money to address the deficit.

Hill: And I understand that television broadcasters have a lot of this spectrum now. Is that right?

Romm: Absolutely. The entire idea behind what's called incentive auctions is recouping airwaves from broadcasters and selling them to wireless companies.

Hill: And so what's this auction going to mean to those of us who aren't wireless providers? What's it going to mean for us regular people?

Romm: In the next couple of days, probably not much. We're talking months, if not years, before the FCC can get the spectrum and then begin to sell it to wireless companies. But over a period of time what it probably means is if you're in a city and you're trying to use your smartphone, maybe it goes a little bit faster, maybe you don't have those problems with congestion that sometimes slows down your phone and results in dropped calls.

Hill: Toni Romm from Politico, thanks.

Romm: Thanks for having me.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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