House Dems: Auction Law Does Not Prevent FCC Spectrum Screen Move

Lawmakers Take Issue with GOP Interpretation of Incentive Auction 5/16/2013 11:20 AM Eastern
Leading House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats have given the FCC their take on what incentive spectrum auction legislation has to say about agency policy regarding the spectrum holdings of wireless companies.

In a letter to outgoing chairman Julius Genachowski (he is exiting Friday, May 17), ranking E&C member Henry Waxman and ranking Communications Subcommittee member Anna Eshoo, both from California, said the law clearly states in a "carefully negotiated" addition to the original bill that the FCC cannot prevent someone from bidding how meets certain criteria. But it "does not require the FCC to allow every carrier to bid for every megahertz of a spectrum band," they said.

In a separate proceeding, the FCC is considering modifying the local-market spectrum screen it uses to determine how much spectrum in one market held by one company should trigger additional review. That could potentially affect AT&T and Verizon, which are expected to be bidders in the spectrum auction. The Democrats point out that the law also allowed for the FCC "to adopt and enforce rules of general applicability, including rules concerning spectrum aggregation that promote competition."

They argue that, in addition to the cap, the FCC could require post-auction divestiture of spectrum, so long as that was part of a generally applicable rule.

Back in April, the Republican leadership wrote the FCC to take issue with the Justice Department's support of ensuring that smaller nationwide networks get a chance to bid, and of weighting spectrum holdings according to the type of spectrum as well as the amount. Lower-band spectrum like that being reclaimed from broadcasters is more valuable to wireless companies because of its propagation characteristics -- it more easily travels through walls and buildings.

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