NCTA: Don’t Ban Cable from FCC Auction

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The Federal Communications Commission should reject arguments that cable operators need to be excluded for competitive reasons from an upcoming auction of old broadcast-TV airwaves, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association said in an FCC filing late Wednesday.

The NCTA, the industry's largest lobbying organization, said cable-operator participation would promote competition in the wireless-broadband market and wouldn’t lead cable firms to warehouse spectrum in an effort to protect cable-modem revenue.

“Spending billions of dollars to purchase spectrum that they have no intention of using would be a useless allocation of resources that cable operators engaged in a competitive battle with telephone companies, direct-broadcast satellite providers and others can ill afford to waste,” the NCTA explained.

A coalition that includes the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Media Access Project, New America Foundation and Public Knowledge asked the FCC to ban cable and phone companies from bidding because of their dominant position in the broadband-access market.

The coalition maintained in an FCC filing Wednesday that the establishment of a wireless-broadband provider unaffiliated with cable or phone companies was needed to purge the market of duopoly control. “Exclusion of existing incumbents remains the simplest way to create a class of new entrants able to compete with existing providers,” the coalition said.

The FCC has until next January to begin the auction, which involves the sale of 60 megahertz of spectrum now controlled by local TV stations. On Feb. 17, 2009, the stations lose access to spectrum as part of the national transition from analog to digital TV. The auction winners need the stations to vacate before they can begin using the spectrum. Auction revenue is expected to reach at least $10 billion.

The NCTA said the broadband-access market wasn’t as static as the coalition claimed, noting the availability of satellite-delivered high-speed-data services and various trials to exploit the power grid as a conduit of broadband services.

The trade group added that in the past, the FCC has sought to ensure that the spectrum auctions are won by the highest bidder.

“It has not tried to determine in advance the most desirable uses of the spectrum and then rig the auction in advance in order to guarantee its preferred result,” the NCTA said.

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