FCC: What to do with unused spectrum?

After tossing Wi-Fi start-up bids for exclusive control of fallow spectrum, federal regulators want public input on how to proceed. Will a new fight over "open access" rules emerge?

First, federal regulators rejected a start-up's bid to gain exclusive access to unused radio spectrum in order to offer a partially free wireless broadband network.

Now, as promised, the Federal Communications Commission is seeking formal public comment on whether it would make sense to permit the sort of scheme proposed by Silicon Valley-based M2Z Networks or others that previously expressed interest in operating a slice of the 2.1 GHz band.

The FCC also wants to know what sort of technological approaches should be allowed on that spectrum and whether it should auction the spectrum, offer it on an unlicensed basis, or undertake some other sort of arrangement. As is typical, the comment period will be open for 30 days after the official notice is published in the Federal Register, with 60 additional days for people to file replies to the already-filed comments.

The two Democratic commissioners, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, issued statements saying they were pleased the FCC was launching the comment period but wished action had occurred sooner. "The one outcome that would plainly not serve the public interest is for this spectrum to remain unavailable for advanced wireless services," Copps said.

The proceeding could prove a new battleground over the concept of "open access," which has dominated much of the FCC's recent rulemaking related to an upcoming auction of the 700 MHz analog TV spectrum.

Proponents of "open access rules," including Google and a number of consumer advocacy groups, argue it's in the public's best interest for federal regulators to require at least some winning spectrum operators to allow consumers to use the devices and applications of their choosing and to offer competitors access to their networks at reasonable wholesale rates. Verizon Wireless and other mobile carriers beg to differ .

 

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