FCC Approves ‘Open Access’ Wireless Rules For Spectrum Auction; Will Not Require Wholesale Access

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The FCC’s vote on rules for the upcoming 700 MHz spectrum auction are in and it looks like “open access” has won out — to some degree. The “open access’ provision championed by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin passed with the support of the two Democrats on the commission; with that in place, one-third of the 62 megahertz network to be auctioned will be an open zone for handsets and software. But, as AP reports, the more ambitious provision requiring a licensee to sell access wholesale — sought by Google and others — did not make the cut. That could mean Google will not take part in the auction next year. More to come.

Update: Unlike AP, CNBC sees this as a big win for Google … providing assurance that Google won’t face interference in software distribution. That’s close to the most positive spin possible given that “open access” will only apply to one-third of the spectrum sold — meaning that for two-thirds, access will remain at the licensee’s discretion. That should allow Google to open access if it participates in the auction and wins — and gives others the option to stay closed.

Reuters: “That requirement will apply to the 22 megahertz spectrum to be sold to commercial providers and the agency set a suggested $4.6 billion minimum for those airwaves to be sold, according to the FCC.”

WSJ: Republican commissioner Roger McDowell, who has been unafraid to the buck the tide since his arrival, went against the rest on part of the vote. In what was perceived as a clear reference to Google’s lobbying, McDowell said: “”Large, wealthy corporations interested in particular business plans do not need the government’s help in this auction.” He didn’t want any conditions attached to the sale.

— “Under the FCC’s rules, companies purchasing one large part of the airwaves would have to allow any hand-held device to be attached to the network they eventually put in place. This could dramatically change competition in the U.S. cellphone industry.”

— Roughly 10 megahertz will go to a single commercial operator obligated to form a public-safety partnership for wireless broadband access.

— The other half will be sold in smaller parcels, probably to smaller local and rural companies.

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