FCC to vote on 700MHz spectrum auction rules

The FCC may finally get the rules for the upcoming 700MHz spectrum set next week.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
3 min read

The Federal Communications Commission said Tuesday that it will vote next week on at least some of the rules pertaining to the much anticipated 700MHz spectrum auction.

The FCC's agenda notice said the commission will consider a "Second Report and Order concerning rules governing wireless licenses in the 698-806 MHz band," more commonly known as the 700MHz spectrum band, during its open meeting scheduled for July 31, 2007, at 9:30 a.m. EST.

The new rules, which determine how to divvy up licenses and actually auction them off for the coveted 700MHz wireless band of spectrum, will likely shape the competitive communications market for decades to come.

As a result, everyone from Google to AT&T to a company called Frontline Wireless, started by former FCC chairman Reed Hundt, are feverishly lobbying Congress and the FCC to establish a set of rules to benefit their interests.

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet held a hearing to dig more deeply into the issue.

One of the biggest issues being debated is whether or not the FCC should include any "open access" rules for some of the spectrum licenses. Because the spectrum propagates over long distances and can penetrate through walls, it's considered ideal for delivering wireless broadband service. And many companies and interest groups have been pushing the FCC and Congress to adopt rules that would favor new entrants, who could build networks to compete against existing telephone and cable broadband providers.

Last week, Google sent a letter to the FCC stating that if the FCC adopted a series of rules requiring open access for all devices, applications, wholesale services and networks, it would commit to bidding $4.6 billion for the spectrum. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has come up with a proposal that includes some of these ideas. Specifically, it would require winners of certain licenses to allow any device to connect to the network. And it requires winning bidders to adhere to some basic Net Neutrality principals that would not allow these service providers to degrade service or impede applications that run over these networks, according to people who have read the proposal.

For the most part, public interest groups say that Martin's proposal doesn't go far enough, because it doesn't require a wholesale model. As one might expect, the major phone companies, such as Verizon and AT&T, say there is no need to add any requirements. That said, AT&T has conceded that it could support Martin's plan.

Some of the auction rules have actually already been established. After a two-day delay in the April open meeting, the FCC addressed a few of the items. For example, the commission adopted a mix of geographic area sizes for licensing the spectrum. It also established rules related to power limits and other technical issues, as well as initial license terms, among several other items. The commission also sought comment on several proposals to modify the 700 MHz band plan, including proposals recently filed by Hundt's Frontline Wireless and various public interest groups.

Precisely which items the commissioners will be voting on next week isn't yet known. But one FCC insider said that the commissioners will likely try to hammer out as many of the rules as possible. Martin has said previously that he had hoped to give potential bidders at least six months to prepare for the auction, which by law has to begin on or before January 28, 2008.