FCC chairman says auction open access rule won’t change

Resisting heavy pressure from Verizon to change an open access rule for the upcoming spectrum auction, FCC chairman Kevin Martin said last week the existing rule will not be modified.

News reports said that Martin was under heavy pressure from Verizon to back away from a requirement that the winner of a block of new spectrum must allow consumers to connect using any device or software of their choosing. Currently, devices and software are mandated by the operator.

According to Reuters, Martin told reporters last week, “I don't have any plans to try to revise our open-platform rule the way Verizon wants us to.” Earlier reports said Martin had tried to change the rule but was unsuccessful in getting enough support among FCC members for a policy reversal.

The spectrum auction, now scheduled to begin on January 24, is considered the last chance to create an open wireless platform for U.S. consumers. Using spectrum being vacated by analog television stations, the 700MHz spectrum is highly desirable for wireless broadband uses.

The auction is expected to raise at least $10 billion for the U.S. treasury. The stakes are extremely high for American telcos seeking to preserve their tight control over wireless networks. Under current rules, U.S. wireless carriers are allowed to restrict the models of mobile devices that can be used on their networks. They also limit the software that can be downloaded onto them, such as ring tones, music or Web browser software.

Verizon Wireless filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia September 10 seeking to overturn open access rules imposed by the FCC. Verizon had sought an expedited hearing, but the court denied the request.