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FCC Punts on 700 MHz rulemaking

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In a rare late-night version of its monthly open meeting, the FCC Wednesday punted on making any first drafts of important rules for the upcoming 700 MHz spectrum auctions, instead pushing back some of the more-controversial elements to allow for more public comment as well as the inevitable behind-the-scenes lobbying and dealmaking.

One partial winner Wednesday was Frontline Wireless, the combination public safety/commercial wireless network plan led by former FCC chairman Reed Hundt. While Frontline’s proposal (which would require a slight tweaking of auction rules) clearly has fans and foes among the five commissioners, by asking for more comments on the proposal the FCC has moved Frontline’s plan from idea to possibility, while all but killing off consideration of a similar but different proposal from the Cyren Call operation.

Another group that is moving in the winning direction is the so-called Coalition for 4G in America, a Google-led group of high-tech players that also includes Intel, Yahoo, eBay, EchoStar and DirecTV. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, in what amounts to a verbal smackdown (in the polite language of FCC proceedings), said he was “surprised” and “puzzled” that other commissioners weren’t more supportive of the coalition’s requests for rules that would help providers build a wireless access network.

Martin’s public flabbergastery — along with some pointed public reservations about the Frontline plan from commissioner Michael Copps — gave ample explanation behind the almost 10-hour delay of the open meeting, which was scheduled for 9:30 a.m. but didn’t start until after 7 p.m. Washington time. While there was easy agreement on some other housekeeping items for the auction — like a rule requiring warning stickers on analog TV sets — the meatier 700 MHz rule arena proved too discordant for commissioners to agree on, leaving only agreement on a “let’s talk more later” order that nobody seemed happy with.

Perhaps that’s because unlike other regulatory proceedings, which can drag on forever, the DTV transition has hard dates mandated by law — so the FCC knows it needs to establish rules soon, so potential bidders can have time to digest them and make economic plans. “We remain highly aware of the need to move swiftly,” said Martin at the meeting’s end.

3 Responses to “FCC Punts on 700 MHz rulemaking”

  1. No more spectrum is required for MOBILE or two-way wireless communications networks, period. Existing spectrum can support ANY CAPACITY INCREASE WHATSOEVER with lower equipment costs than new spectrum. What existing incumbents have perhaps not realised is that putting up more antenna (elements) either on the same sites or new sites that re-use their existing spectrum provides the same or higher capacity than putting up that same number of new antennas in 700MHz.

    Furthermore, look what the cellular operators think they want extra spectrum for: Broadcast services. Yes – TV, no less, is the service they are thinking of. I know because I am in the heart of it, but I have to say I fail to see the logic of taking spectrum away from TV in order to give it to TV. Of oucre it makes sense from the operator’s viewpoit: Take spectrum away from FREE TV and give it to PAY TV is what they have in mind. But, that is AGAINST THE PUBLIC INTEREST (FCC take note)

  2. Paul Kapustka

    Thanks Harold. (readers should follow the link on Harold’s name for his blog and analysis.) I thought Martin’s shout out to the 4G coalition was pretty remarkable, given its participants (Google, eBay, etc.) are not his usual running mates. Again, without an order to look at it’s not always perfect science trying to decipher both the FCC codespeak from a webcast feed. But it is always fun to hear the commission when they get cranky and whiny, like they’re the only people ever to work late once in awhile.

  3. I think you’re wrong on your assesment of 4G. They went from a stronger position to a weaker position when Martin had to include the alternate band proposal.

    You also miss the rather surprise inclusion of the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition open access proposal. Given that both Martin and Adelstein mentioned the coalition by name as improving the process, and given the Commission’s antipathy to open access and net neutrality, I’d have thought this inclusion worthy of at least a mention. (Of course, as one of the participants, I am a shade biased.)