In Japan, millions of consumers are using hand-held phones with a screen the size of a business card to communicate on the Internet. In Europe, by contrast, a buying frenzy for government licenses for so-called third-generation wireless mobile networks has nearly bankrupted the telecom industry. The U.S. can profit from both situations. But first the Federal Communications Commission has to make available frequency spectrums that are caught between broadcasters and the wireless industry.
Since 1994, the FCC has been auctioning off parts of the broadcast spectrum, but the disputed upper band of the 700-megahertz spectrum is particularly suited for wireless carriers. Chairman Michael Powell has repeatedly delayed auctioning this part of the spectrum, most recently until January 2003.
He needs to get the licenses sold, to push the wireless industry into global competitiveness and get a fair price for the taxpayers. In doing so, he should also not allow broadcasters to receive an undeserved windfall.
Congress temporarily granted broadcasters the rights to extra spectrum in 1996, in return for developing digital high-definition television while still offering analog signals. They're supposed to relinquish their older spectrum holdings when 85% of U.S. households have a digital-ready television set; at the moment, that goal looks a long way off. But in the meantime, the broadcasters are allowed to cut their own deals to give up the part of the spectrum most valuable to wireless uses.