Wireless Spectrum Up for Bid

FCC began auctioning up a chunk of spectrum in the lower 700MHz range but delayed further auctions until January.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this week began auctioning a chunk of spectrum in the lower 700MHz range, while keeping its plans to auction off the rest of the spectrum in January.

The abbreviated auction is a compromise from Congress, addressing rural wireless carriers immediate need for additional spectrum while still acknowledging urban carriers assertions that they dont want to pay for new spectrum before current tenants exit the band.

Under the terms of the deal, one license will be offered in each of 734 metropolitan or rural service areas, and one license will be offered in each of six economic area groupings (EAG), for a total of 740 licenses, according to FCC officials in Washington, DC.

"Were glad that the majority of the 700MHz band has been held," said Travis Larson, a spokesman for the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, a lobbying group for commercial wireless carriers in Washington, D.C. "It will allow the FCC, in conjunction with Congress, to devise a better spectrum management plan."

In late May, the FCC for the sixth time postponed the auction of the 700MHz frequencies, this time from June 19 2002 to January 14, 2003. Spectrum in the 747-762 and 777-792 MHz ranges is still due for auction in January.

The 700MHz auction has been delayed so many times because prospective bidders have complained that it doesnt make sense to bid on spectrum that is already occupied. And several cable TV stations already occupy the 700MHz band.

The TV stations are required to leave the band as part of a national transition to digital television, but they are not required to leave before 2006 or when 85 percent of households can receive digital TV signals—whichever comes last.

The FCC has suggested that potential bidders negotiate with broadcasters and pay them to move out earlier. In a statement last year the commission said, "the private sector ... [will] determine the band-clearing mechanisms that will best suit broadcasters and potential new 700MHz licensees needs." (An FCC official said last week that the same rules would apply for the abbreviated auction as with the larger auction next January.)

So far the broadcasters have not budged. Rep. Billy Tauzin (R.-La.) has plans to introduce legislation to address this issue next month.

"We look forward to seeing that," Larson said.

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