FCC to Decide on Auction Rules Today
The Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote this morning on the rules governing the January auction of valuable airwaves. These airwaves are coveted by phone, cable and Internet companies of all sizes because they are ideal for carrying wireless signals.
The biggest debate has been over whether the FCC will require about one-third of those airwaves to be used to build a nationwide network that will work with any wireless device, as Chairman Kevin Martin has proposed. He seems to have gotten majority support for that plan, which has the potential to bring big change to the wireless industry. But Google and a number of other tech companies and public interest groups, including Public Knowledge, Free Press and the Open Internet Coalition have been pushing for stronger rules that would also require the network to be open to all software, applications and third-party companies. Martin has said he doesn't support the extra open-access requirements.
AT&T has said it can live with Martin's proposal that will open the network up to all devices. Verizon Wireless opposes the idea.
But this auction, which is expected to fetch about $15 billion for the federal government, affects countless other companies and organizations besides Google and the biggest wireless carriers. Small telecom companies and rural providers also have a large stake in this because they need more airwaves to strengthen their network and roll out new services in hard-to-reach places. In filings with the FCC, many of them have expressed concern that, if an open-access rule is granted, the giant phone companies will try to buy smaller licenses that don't have an open-access requirement. That could make it harder for the smaller companies to compete for the airwaves, they say.
Public safety groups, including police, firefighters and emergency responders, have a lot riding on this as well. On a separate chunk of airwaves, Martin has proposed a partnership between the private sector and public safety groups, who say they need a nationwide, interoperable network to replace the current patchwork of separate networks that don't talk to each other. The idea would be for a private company--Verizon or AT&T, perhaps--to help build the network and then use excess capacity for commercial purposes when its available.
Frontline, a group backed by Silicon Valley investors and former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt, wants to help build the public safety network. It's been pushing for that to be an open-access network, which Martin has opposed.
Analysts say the main question surrounds how that public-private partnership would actually work.
The meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Stay tuned.
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