The TV spectrum incentive auction filled up a hearing room in
the Russell Senate Office Building on a snow day in D.C., where a panel of witnesses brought
their own specific interests to bear on lawmakers.
Much of the line of inquiry focused on the who and how of auction
participation, instigated in part by differences between dominant and
nondominant wireless carriers a la
AT&T and Verizon versus everyone else. Smaller carriers and some public
interest groups want bidding restrictions to assure the big carriers don’t walk
away with all the TV spectrum proffered for auction.
AT&T’s Vice President of Federal Regulatory Affairs Joan Marsh said contrary
to assertions that AT&T ruled the 2008 700 MHz spectrum auction, it
indeed won licenses in only one of five blocks. She also spoke against
“scoring” spectrum according to the population area covered by it, something
favored by T-Mobile an Sprint to drive down the cost of spectrum. She also said
that winners would need to pair spectrum in 10 MHz blocks (for uplink and
Hal Singer, senior fellow of the Progressive Policy Institute, spoke out
against bidding restrictions based on current holdings in given markets—“asymmetric spectrum
caps,” he called them. He said such caps were are unnecessary because the Federal
Communications Commission could “compel ex-post divestitures under existing
law.” He also said the FCC should investigate if and how carriers with little
or no low-band (sub-1 GHz) spectrum are impaired by not having it.
Steven K. Berry, president and CEO of Competitive Carriers Association, noted
that Verizon and AT&T already controlled 80 percent of low-band spectrum,
and that the FCC should reject bidding packages and practices that lock out
Harold Feld, senior vice president of Public Knowledge, suggested limiting the
number of licenses any one entity could win.
Preston Padden, executive director of Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters
Coalition, said more details were necessary to get more stations voluntarily to
participate in the auction, including at what price bidding will begin.
Padden’s Coalition consists of 70 licensees who want to participate.
“The FCC needs to tell broadcasters what the price range is going to be,” he
Marsh was asked about preserving white spaces, and said unlicensed devices could
live in the 600 MHz guard bands under proper conditions.
“We’d be happy to consider any unlicensed uses that do not create
interference,” she said.
Berry fielded a question about the wireless industry’s ongoing appetite for
more and more spectrum, and if it would ever come to an end. He said technologies such as LTE will continue
to move the industry forward, (though one of the problems with LTE is it cannot
be deployed in spectrum where legacy 3G cellular transmission is used).
Sen. Bill Nelson (R-Fla.) asked Gary Epstein where the FCC was in the “auction
technology information process.” Epstein is chairman of the FCC’s Incentive
Auction Task Force and special advisor to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.
Epstein said the FCC had some of the “best software-design auction people in
the world,” working on it.
The forward auction will reflect previous auctions; it’s the reverse
auction—the initial process to determine broadcaster interest and
participation—that’s never been done.
“Before we have this auction, we will have a mock auction, and have the actual
participants do a stress test… before we go to market,” Epstein said.