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The Internet Innovation Alliance is a broad-based coalition of business and non-profit organizations that aim to ensure every American, regardless of race, income or geography, has access to the critical tool that is broadband Internet. The IIA seeks to promote public policies that support equal opportunity for universal broadband availability and adoption so that everyone, everywhere can seize the benefits of the Internet - from education to health care, employment to community building, civic engagement and beyond.

The Podium

Blog posts tagged with 'Auctions'

Wednesday, May 14

Smart Auctions

By Brad

Over at VOXXI, IIA Broadband Ambassador Kristian Ramos highlights why the FCC’s incentive spectrum auctions need to be open to every bidder willing to invest. An excerpt:

What many fail to realize is that the rate of growth in spectrum usage continues to accelerate. For example, the amount of spectrum used by mobile broadband data doubled in 2012 and is expected to increase eightfold by 2018.

To address this impending “spectrum crunch,” in 2012 Congress authorized the FCC to conduct a voluntary incentive auction as a way to make additional spectrum from television broadcasters available to commercial wireless providers so that they can meet the ever increasing demand for wireless broadband.

The proceeds of the incentive auction will be used to compensate broadcasters for relinquishing their spectrum and pay for a nationwide broadband public safety network consistent with the recommendation of the 9/11 commission, with leftover funds going toward deficit reduction.

However, for the auction to work properly, the FCC needs strong participation from as many broadcasters and bidders as possible. In fact, 78 House Democrats recently told the FCC as much, writing in a letter: “The FCC must invite as many participants as possible ‘on equal terms’ to an ‘open and fair’ broadcast TV spectrum incentive auction.”

Participation in the incentive auction matters. Remember: The auctions are voluntary, which means broadcasters that are participating do not have to sell their unused spectrum if they do not feel as if they are being fairly compensated.

By increasing the number of bidders participating in the auction, the FCC would improve the financial impact of the auction and enhance broadcaster participation. The more broadcaster spectrum that is available at auction, the more spectrum is available for consumers.

Check out Ramos’ full op-ed at VOXXI.

Wednesday, April 16

House Dems to the FCC



As the FCC continues to design its upcoming incentive spectrum auction, 78 House Democrats have penned a letter — led by Congressmen John Barrow and Bennie G. Thompson — encouraging the Commission to maximize the benefits of the auction by ensuring they are open to all entities willing to bid. An excerpt from the letter:

For the auction to be a success, the Commission should maximize participation by both broadcasters incented to relinquish their spectrum rights and bidders seeking to buy those rights in the spectrum auction. In fact, inviting as many bidders as possible to compete in an open and fair auction on equal terms will allow for the full market price for spectrum to be realized and, in turn, lead to higher compensation to incent greater broadcaster participation resulting in more spectrum for the auction.

We agree with the position taken by the House Democrats. As our Honorary Chairman, former Congressman Rick Boucher, wrote in an op-ed for Light Reading last year:

In order to meet these multiple needs simultaneously, it’s essential that the auction be open to all financially qualified bidders. Some have suggested that the largest mobile carriers be restricted in their ability to participate fully in the auction in order to favor smaller carriers. Limiting the ability of the largest carriers to purchase the spectrum their customers are demanding will mean fewer services for consumers and lower auction proceeds, rendering very difficult the challenge of meeting all of the competing and urgent demands for the auction revenues.

Moreover, it is not at all clear that spectrum acquisition restrictions on the largest carriers would actually promote competition.

Wednesday, March 19

Auctions on the Agenda

By Brad

With all the recent focus on the transition to all-IP networks — and the FCC trials to make that transition go as smoothly as possible — it’s easy to lose track of another pressing issues, which is the Commission’s upcoming spectrum incentive auction. Over at Broadcasting & Cable, John Eggerton reports that the auctions will soon be moved to the front burner:

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is targeting May for a vote on an item establishing rules of the road for the broadcast incentive auction, according to sources inside and outside the commission.

Wheeler has been saying “spring” for a while, but according to sources, he is looking at scheduling the item for the May 15 open meeting.

Good news.

Monday, December 09

Delaying Auctions

By Brad

In more FCC news, late last week the Commission announced it was delaying its incentive spectrum auction. As Alina Selyukh of Reuters reports:

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission, as long predicted, now plans to hold the so-called incentive auction of broadcast airwaves in mid-2015, a year later than originally intended, the agency chairman said on Friday.

The FCC is now drafting rules for the auction that would reshuffle the ownership of valuable frequencies among TV stations, as well as wireless carriers, which are clamoring for faster speeds and better services for their devices.

Thursday, November 14

Just Say No to Aggregation Limits

By Bruce Mehlman


Today’s letter from a handful of organizations that asks the FCC to set spectrum-auction aggregation limits puts whipped cream on a mud pie. The FCC should follow Congress’ clear goals of getting more spectrum out into the marketplace for all willing investors and maximizing revenue to fix the debt, rather than siding with some competitors over others. We should be finding more spectrum for all carriers rather than barriers to hold some back. The suggested limits would reduce auction revenue, make broadcasters less likely to participate and reduce the pace of broadband investment.

Thursday, October 17

Back to Work

By Brad

Now that the federal government is up and running again, things are expected to heat up on the tech policy front. Case in point, as Brendan Sasso of The Hill reports:

The Senate could confirm President Obama’s nominees to the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission as early as Wednesday night.

Tom Wheeler, President Obama’s pick for FCC chairman, and Michael O’Rielly, a nominee for a Republican commission seat, have been placed on a fast track for Senate approval, according to a document circulated on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

Terrell McSweeny, a Democratic FTC nominee, and Kathryn Sullivan, nominated to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, could also be approved.

With hot issues like spectrum auctions and the transition to advanced networks on the table, it’s good to see the government back to work, and that the FCC could finally have a new Chairman ASAP.

Wednesday, September 11

Successful Auctions for Safety

By Brad

In a post for The Hill‘s Congress Blog, Brian Fontes, chief executive officer for the National Emergency Number Association, argues that successfully building state-of-the-art public safety networks will require smart spectrum auctions from the FCC:

In order to be successful, however, the auction must generate maximum revenue by capturing the full value of repurposed spectrum. This is the best and perhaps only opportunity to raise the necessary funds for investment in a network we so desperately need. We cannot settle for half-measures and incremental moves – the FCC must take decisive steps and set up an auction that delivers the resources needed to empower our public safety officials.

An incentive auction permitting all bidders to participate will be the most effective way to deliver the funds necessary to build FirstNet and help deploy Next Generation 9-1-1. If the most likely bidders in the auction face participation limits, then as a recent study found, auction proceeds would fall 40 percent. Restrictions, including limits on bids, would likely slash $12 billion in revenue. Broadcasters wishing to make the most of their spectrum holdings will be more hesitant to offer up their airwaves for bidding. A limited spectrum inventory will reduce funds generated from the auction, and jeopardize the future of FirstNet and funding for Next Generation 9-1-1.

Monday, August 05

Conflicting Reports

By Brad

With wireless providers in desperate need of more spectrum, the FCC has been working toward making its incentive auctions happen sometime next year. But as John Eggerton of Broadcasting & Cable reports, Sen. Mark Pryor, chairman of the Senate Communications Subcommittee, believes the Commission may not hit the target:

Asked about the state of the FCC incentive auctions, Pryor said he would be “totally fine” with holding those auctions in 2014, but has heard “rumors” it could slide into 2015 and “guessed” it might just make that slide.

Broadcasters have been arguing that the FCC should not hold itself to 2014, but work on getting the auction “done right rather than right away.” The FCC’s incentive auction point people have suggested it can get it right and meet that 2014 deadline, though that deadline is not set in stone.

Not so fast, the FCC told Eggerton in a follow-up report:

“The Commission’s world-class incentive auction team of economists, auction experts, and engineers is making steady progress towards holding the world’s first incentive auction in 2014; which will free up significant spectrum for mobile broadband use,” said [acting chair Mignon Clyburn’s] spokesman. “The auction is a top institutional priority and we are on track to help deliver faster speeds, greater capacity, and more ubiquitous wireless connectivity to consumers and businesses across the country.”

Monday, July 22

Getting the Most Out of Spectrum Auctions

By Brad

In an op-ed for Fierce Wireless, Anna-Maria Kovacs, Visiting Senior Policy Scholar at Georgetown University’s Center for Business and Public Policy, makes the case for open spectrum auctions in order to maximize proceeds:

The FCC has tremendous expertise in running auctions, both internally and via external advisors.  But it has shown that it can undervalue spectrum radically. Because Auction 73 was open to all bidders, the auction proceeds were not limited to the FCC’s low revenue target. The full market value of the spectrum was revealed in the auction process and obtained for the Treasury. Having built in the safe-guard of openness, the FCC had every reason to be proud of a very successful auction, and to brag in its post-auction press release that it raised $9 billion more than anticipated.

Now imagine that Auction 73 had been run as an exclusionary auction, with some bidders relegated to the bench, to be called out only if that $10 billion revenue target were not reached. The bidders on the field would have had every incentive, collectively, to reach that $10 billion target in order to keep the pinch hitters out of the game. Once they had accomplished that, they would have had no incentive to exceed the target.

Tuesday, July 16

From Congress to the FCC

By Bruce Mehlman


In a letter to the FCC, eight members of Congress — Rep. John Dingell, Rep. Eliot Engel, Rep. G.K. Butterfield, Rep Gene Green, Rep. Bruce Braley, Rep. Jim Matheson, Rep. John Barrow, and Rep. Paul Tonko — urged the Commission to resist bidding restrictions in its upcoming spectrum incentive auctions. From the letter:

[W]e hope the Commission will avoid any action that would serve as an impediment to the successful build-out of FirstNet. More specifically, we are concerned that the Commission may take action which would have the effect of excluding entities in the forward auction authorized by the Act. All carriers should have a meaningful opportunity to bid for spectrum. Since September 11, 2001, Congress, the Commission, the 9/11 Commission, and others have recognized the urgent need for nationwide interoperable public safety communications. Nearly 12 years later, however, we have failed to achieve this goal. Indeed, the Commission’s prior effort to auction the Upper 700 Megahertz D Block spectrum for public safety use failed due to overly complex and uncertain auction rules adopted by the Commission. We very respectfully request that the Commission avoid repeating that mistake in carrying out the Act’s forward auction.

Back in February, our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher had similar thoughts when he wrote:

The simple truth is America’s wireless industry continues to be fiercely competitive (in fact, when it comes to spectrum holdings, letter signee Sprint is in arguably the best position due to its partnership with Clearwire). Allowing the FCC to impose conditions on spectrum auctions will not make the industry more competitive. And the spectrum critically needed by all providers to keep up with increasing demand will not be put to its full use, leading to spectrum shortages, reduced investment and innovation, and higher prices for consumers.

Only through truly competitive, open spectrum auctions will America’s wireless industry continue to thrive. After all, the best way to ensure competition is to encourage everyone to compete.

We’ve uploaded the full letter from members of Congress to the FCC here.

Monday, June 17

Mehlman in the Mercury News

By Brad

Our own Bruce Mehlman has penned an op-ed for the Silicon Valley Mercury News on the perils of over-regulating the FCC’s upcoming spectrum auction. Here’s a taste:

In March, 37 senators urged President Barack Obama to appoint Jessica Rosenworcel to chair the Federal Communications Commission. The president instead named the well-qualified venture capitalist and industry veteran Tom Wheeler. Rosenworcel is sure to continue contributing mightily to the FCC as a commissioner, but perhaps the president should consider her for another job—attorney general.

This is not another criticism of the controversies embroiling the Department of Justice. Rather, Rosenworcel’s real contribution would be to offer a breath of fresh air in economic policy in the department, especially with regard to the dynamic tech marketplace.

The Justice Department doesn’t get it. Rosenworcel does. And the department’s anachronistic worldview threatens to delay our mobile broadband future.

You can read the full op-ed over at the Mercury News.

Thursday, May 30

Getting Spectrum Auctions Right

By Rick Boucher


Last week Apple announced the 50 billionth app download, despite the App Store being open less than five years. This benchmark is compelling evidence of a vibrant wireless market. However, as more and more Americans embrace mobile technology, wireless providers are running out of spectrum, the wireless airwaves that underpin the mobile industry.

This shortage could affect wireless service. Without additional spectrum, wireless broadband service will deteriorate.  Mobile videos could freeze; downloads might take longer; phone calls could drop. None of the nearly half of Americans who own a smartphone want this to happen.

To avoid this looming problem, more spectrum must be made available for consumer wireless use. A wireless auction, designed to reallocate broadcasters spectrum to wireless carriers, is scheduled for 2014.

Not only could this auction provide much-needed additional spectrum for consumer use, but it could raise as much as $26 billion for the federal treasury. A recent study by the Center for Business and Public Policy at Georgetown University sees it as high as $31 billion. Some of this money will go toward building out a nationwide interoperable public safety network. Other monies will go to reimbursing broadcasters for their spectrum.

However, the FCC is considering adopting auction rules that would favor certain wireless service providers over others. Rather than pushing for an open and competitive auction in which all qualified bidders can bid, the Department of Justice and others seek restrictions on who can fully participate in the auction. The aforementioned study found that limiting who can participate in the auction risks the auction’s success. It went on to say that restricting some bidders could mean $12 billion in lost revenue to the federal government.

Moreover, in addition to the monetary cost, tampering with the auction could delay President Obama’s goal of delivering broadband to 98% of Americans by curtailing the expansion of mobile broadband access. The Georgetown study estimates that predicted higher prices could cause fewer Americans to adopt 4G by 2017.

In short, consumers will pay a cost unless the 2014 spectrum auction is done right. However, if the same rules are applied to all, the auction will succeed and all Americans will benefit from the availability of better mobile broadband connections.

Friday, May 10

Agenda Items for the Next FCC Chairman

By Jamal Simmons


It’s official: current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski will be handing over the gavel on May 17th. While Commissioner Mignon Clyburn will lead the agency until Obama nominee Tom Wheeler gets confirmed and sworn in, it’s worth taking a look at the top two pressing issues Wheeler will face once he takes the helm of the Commission.

Agenda Item: IP Transition

The trend is undeniable. Americans are leaving their traditional phone service, dropping their standard connection in favor of wireless and IP-based phone connections. You’re probably one of them. If you have your home phone service bundled with cable, you might not even realize you no longer rely on the plain old telephone service (POTS) network.

With scores of people changing the way they communicate (some estimates peg the number at 500,000 people each month), network providers want to gradually sunset their old networks so they can concentrate billions in investment dollars to new, Internet-based services. In other words, they want to put their money where consumers want to go … and are going.

This transition to all-IP (Internet Protocol) networks won’t be as easy as flipping a switch. Ensuring everyone still has a reliable connection, especially seniors and those living in rural areas, is critical. That’s why AT&T submitted a proposal to the FCC for “beta trials” in select markets to identify potential pitfalls, an idea FCC Commission Ajit Pai strongly endorsed in a speech sponsored by the Hudson Institute back in March. As Pai said in his speech:

Right now, the most critical choice we face is whether to move forward with an All-IP Pilot Program. This program would allow forward-looking companies to choose a discrete set of wire centers where they could turn off their old TDM electronics and migrate consumers to an all-IP platform. Now, you may have noticed that when it comes to the IP transition, everyone has a prediction about what will or will not happen if carriers are allowed to provide services exclusively through an all-IP platform. But as we found out during yesterday’s “snowstorm”—what we Kansans call “weather”—predictions are no substitute for hard facts. Albert Einstein had it right: A “pretty experiment is in itself often more valuable than twenty formulae extracted from our minds.”

Fortunately, we don’t need to rely on formulae any longer. The FCC has sought and received comments on a proposal to create an All-IP Pilot Program. I’ve reviewed the record carefully. And having done so, I am proposing today that the FCC move forward with this program.

Going forward with beta trials is just part of the greater IP transition discussion Wheeler will no doubt be having as head of the FCC. Also on the burner will be regulations — specifically, what will be the regulatory framework in an all-IP world? The 1996 Telecommunications Act is by all accounts painfully outdated. Modernizing rules to keep pace with today’s technology in ways that encourage continued investment in network infrastructure and protect consumers will be critical for the IP transition to succeed. And Wheeler, from the driver’s seat of the FCC, will need to lead the discussion.

Agenda Item: Spectrum

Outgoing Chairman Julius Genachowski deserves a ton of credit for recognizing the coming “spectrum crunch” (as he’s coined it), but the FCC’s proposed solution to the problem — incentive spectrum auctions — is barely past the 50-yard line. The auctions are still being shaped, the details still being argued over. Some are pushing for limited involvement in the auctions by certain wireless providers. Others question whether enough broadcasters will participate to make a difference.

Meanwhile, thousands of Americans are adopting mobile broadband every day. They are firing up smartphones and tablets for the first time and pushing data into the ether. And all that data is joining the bits and bytes being pushed out from tens of millions of other people who are already relying on a wireless connection to the Internet for their daily activities.

To keep up with this flood of data traveling on their networks, wireless providers have been trying to make deals for spectrum left and right. But it’s still not enough, which means a lot will be riding on the FCC’s spectrum auctions. Will Wheeler and the other Commissioners successfully put together proceedings that are open to all qualified bidders? Auctions that maximize much-needed revenue for the Federal government? As my colleague Rick Boucher succinctly put it:

Only through truly competitive, open spectrum auctions will America’s wireless industry continue to thrive. After all, the best way to ensure competition is to encourage everyone to compete.

These are the two most critical issues Wheeler will face once he’s in charge of the FCC (and underlying both of those issues is the most important part of his job — increasing access for all Americans to participate in the technological revolution we are experiencing. High-speed access to the Internet only increases in importance as job searches, entrepreneurial opportunities, education and health care are all enhanced by being online). While some have criticized his selection given his past life running both the NCTA and the CTIA, such experience offers encouragement that he has the ability to successfully get the job done. As President Obama remarked during the announcement of his selection:

”If anybody is wondering about Tom’s qualifications… [He] is the only member of both the cable television and the wireless industry hall of fame.”

Here’s hoping Wheeler will one day be inducted into the FCC hall of fame as well.

Thursday, March 28

Quick Talk With Genachowski

By Brad

Speaking of the FCC, John Eggerton of Broadcasting & Cable has a short interview with outgoing Chairman Julius Genachowski. Here’s a taste, regarding the Commission’s upcoming spectrum auctions:

You mentioned incentive auctions. You are leaving with the incentive auctions still at the beginning of the process. What shape is it in?

In 2009, when I rang the alarm bell on a spectrum crunch, people said there was no spectrum crunch. In early 2010, when we introduced the incentive auction idea, people said that would never happen. The goals that I set out were to get the country focused on spectrum crunch, get the legislation passed and move forward on other steps to free up licensed and unlicensed spectrum. Things have moved much faster than anyone would have thought, and much more has gotten done than anyone would have predicted. Having said that, there are challenges ahead and they will be with us for a very long time. That is why one of the things I focused on was strengthening the agency so that it could continue to do the work of the American people for a very long time.

The full interview is worth checking out.

Tuesday, March 12

Swanson on Spectrum

By Brad

At his blog Maximum Entropy, Bret Swanson (who is one of our Broadband Ambassadors) writes about a recent op-ed from FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in the Wall Street Journal:

Chairman Genachowski is right to herald the incentive auctions that could unleash hundreds of megahertz of un- and under-used spectrum from the old TV broadcasters. Yet wrangling over the rules of the auctions could stretch on, delaying the the process. Worse, the rules themselves could restrict who can bid on or buy new spectrum, effectively allowing the FCC to favor certain firms, technologies, or friends at the expense of the best spectrum allocation. We’ve seen before that centrally planned spectrum allocations don’t work. The fact that the FCC is contemplating such an approach is worrisome. It runs counter to the policies that led to today’s mobile success.

Swanson’s full post is worth checking out, as is a recent post from our own Bruce Mehlman on Genachowski’s spectrum vision..

Wednesday, March 06

Genachowski on Spectrum Auctions

By Bruce Mehlman


In today’s Wall Street Journal, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski goes over the many steps the Commission is taking to free up more spectrum from wireless use. Calling broadband the “engine for economic growth,” he starts out his op-ed by backing up that statement:

To sustain long-term economic health, America needs growth engines, areas of the economy that hold real promise of major expansion. Few sectors have more job-creating innovation potential than broadband, particularly mobile broadband.

Genachowski then highlights how the U.S. now leads the world in 4G LTE deployment (along with the fact that private investment in mobile infrastructure is “more than 50% higher than in Europe”), but warns that in order to keep both deployment and investment happening, more airwaves are critical. As he writes:

Spectrum is finite, and the demand for airwaves being created by data-hungry, Internet-connected devices is on pace to exceed supply. How significant is the spike in demand? Today’s smartphones generate 50 times more mobile traffic than a traditional cellphone. For tablets, it’s 120 times more traffic. As a result, American wireless networks are running at the highest utilization rate of any in the world.

One solution to this problem, Genachowski tells readers of the Journal, is the Commission’s upcoming spectrum incentive auctions, which have the potential to both free up airwaves and deliver much needed revenue to the Federal Government. That’s potentially a win-win, as they say. But as our own Rick Boucher wrote this past February, the key to making the FCC’s initiative successful for consumers and the economy is ensuring spectrum auctions are open to all bidders. Boucher:

History has shown that when the FCC has tried to pick winners and losers in the wireless market, American consumers have lost. Past attempts by the Commission to favor certain bidders and/or impose rigid regulations on auction winners have drastically diminished auction proceeds, left major blocks of spectrum unused, and led to what FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski himself has labeled “America’s looming spectrum crisis.”

The simple truth is America’s wireless industry continues to be fiercely competitive… Allowing the FCC to impose conditions on spectrum auctions will not make the industry more competitive. And the spectrum critically needed by all providers to keep up with increasing demand will not be put to its full use, leading to spectrum shortages, reduced investment and innovation, and higher prices for consumers.

Only through truly competitive, open spectrum auctions will America’s wireless industry continue to thrive. After all, the best way to ensure competition is to encourage everyone to compete.

Genachowski and the entire FCC deserve praise for their tireless work to keep this critically important issue on the front burner. But given mobile broadband’s benefits — not just to consumers and the economy, but to communities, education, and the health care industry — ensuring spectrum incentive auctions are open to all those willing to make the substantial private investment to keep rapid deployment going should be at the top of the list. As Genachowski himself wrote in his op-ed:

Private-sector innovation in mobile broadband has been extraordinary. But maintaining the creative momentum in wireless networks, devices and apps will need an equally innovative wireless policy, or jobs and growth will be left on the table.

Wednesday, November 14

Rosenworcel on Auctions

By Brad

Speaking of incentive auctions, yesterday FCC Commission Jessica Rosenworcel spoke at a conference and laid out her vision for how the auctions should proceed. The National Journal‘s Juliana Gruenwald once again reports:

Rosenworcel, a Democrat who joined the five-member commission in May, outlined the proposal during a conference that examined spectrum policy over the next decade. She noted that meeting the nation’s spectrum needs will require a variety of approaches, including effective implementation of the incentive auction process by the FCC, technological solutions, and spectrum sharing.

She also echoed calls for federal agencies to give up more of their spectrum to commercial wireless providers. Noting that government agencies are understandably reluctant to surrender a network or communications system once it’s in place, she suggested giving agencies an incentive by offering them a share of the proceeds from the auction of the federal spectrum.

Banding Together for Auctions

By Brad

The National Journal‘s Juliana Gruenwald reports that with the FCC’s incentive auctions gearing up, a group of broadcasters has banded together to work with the Commission:

The Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition will press to obtain the best conditions for broadcasters as the FCC implements legislation passed in February that authorizes the use of incentive auctions to free up TV stations’ spectrum for use by wireless broadband providers.

According to John Eggerton of Broadcasting & Cable, the FCC’s chief is down with the idea:

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski Tuesday gave an “open, transparent and data-driven” shout-out to the new Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition, which is being organized by former broadcast exec and one time Association for Independent Television Stations president Preston Padden.

“Incentive auctions will offer significant opportunities for broadcasters—both those that will take advantage of a once in a lifetime financial opportunity, and those that will choose to continue to be a part of a healthy and diverse broadcast marketplace,” said the chairman in response to the creation of the coalition. “I welcome the participation of the new Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition in our rulemaking process as the Commission engages all stakeholders in a manner that is open, transparent and data-driven.”

Monday, November 05

Auctions Are Plan A

By Brad

Over at The Hill, Jennifer Martinez reports that when it comes freeing up more spectrum for wireless use, at least one FCC Commissioner says the FCC is all in on voluntary spectrum auctions:

Mignon Clyburn, a Democratic commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), expressed confidence in the agency’s ability to execute its ambitious plan to off auction television stations’ airwave licenses to cellular service providers during a C-SPAN interview.

We have no plan B, there’s a plan A. We’re doing all that we can to make sure that there are market synergies, that there are market forces, that there are market opportunities that both the buyers and sellers can take advantage of,” Clyburn said during a taping of C-SPAN’s “The Communicators” program that will air Saturday.

Friday, October 12

Three Words: Faithful, Fair, Simple

By Jamal Simmons


In a speech at CTIA’s MobileCon on Wednesday, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai talked spectrum – specifically, what has worked (and not worked) in the government’s efforts to free up more airwaves for wireless use.

As many would expect from this Republican member of the Commission, Pai embraces the power of the free market when it comes to providers being able to meet consumer demand for more airwaves. He points out:

Historically, the FCC used comparative hearings — better known as “beauty contests” — or even lotteries to assign licenses. In other words, the agency either had to choose political favorites or leave it to chance — a lose-lose proposition.

The big change, Pai noted, came in 1993, when Congress — and President Clinton — authorized the auction process for spectrum. Calling this move a “win-win,” Pai said:

Not only do [auctions] allocate spectrum more efficiently, but they also have raised over $50 billion for the federal government.

For further proof, Pai focused on two previous auctions — one in 2006, the other 2008 — that together provided 142 MHz of spectrum for mobile broadband. And that boost in airwaves, Pai went on to say, has greatly benefited the U.S. as a whole:

How important have these auctions been? They are the main reason why the United States today leads the world in 4G deployment. Verizon Wireless is using the C-Block spectrum it obtained in [2008’s] Auction 73 to roll out 4G LTE service nationwide. AT&T provides 4G services over B-Block spectrum from Auction 73 as well as spectrum from [2006’s] Auction 2006. MetroPCS uses spectrum from Auction 66 to provide 4G LTE service. So does Leap Wireless. And soon, so will T-Mobile.

That’s obviously a lot of wireless expansion — not to mention a healthy boost to competition — from just two auctions, but as Pai himself noted there’s still much work to be done, especially when it comes to closing America’s digital divide. Wired broadband can only reach so many people before it becomes economically unfeasible. That means, if the U.S. is going to achieve the ambitious goal of bringing broadband to every corner of our nation, mobile broadband is the way to go.

According to Pai, the key to making it all happen is for the Commission to stay on the schedule it has already laid out for spectrum auctions. But he added:

I think three principles should [also] guide our work as we set up these auctions. Specifically, we must remain faithful to the legislation. We must be fair to all stakeholders. And we must keep our rules as simple as possible.

That’s exactly right, and I hope Pai and the Commission are able to take lessons from past successes to shape the role that the government should play going forward. Making the goals of the National Broadband Plan reality is simply too important — to the economic health of America, to the promise that everyone in our nation should have an opportunity to succeed — for us to fail. The future of broadband is up in the air, and it will take smart spectrum management and reallocation by the FCC to help tap mobile broadband’s full potential.

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