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Wireless Spectrum To Take Center Stage At Next FCC Meeting

Rules for wireless spectrum ownership also on agenda
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The Federal Communications Commission is set to begin the Herculean task of holding spectrum auctions to meet the nation's growing demand for wireless services. At the agency's next meeting on Sept. 28, the five commissioners will consider just how to structure the auctions that were authorized by Congress earlier this year by proposing. Essentially the commissioners are looking to lay out the ground rules for how the auction will be conducted.

Of course, getting more spectrum into the wireless marketplace won't be easy. First, the FCC has to determine how much spectrum will be auctioned and that depends on how much spectrum TV stations decide to voluntarily relinquish. The whole process, as Commissioner Robert McDowell is fond of saying, will be "the most complex auctions in the history of the world."

The FCC hopes to hold the auction by 2014.

But before the auctions happens, the FCC has to first propose rules by which it will conduct the auction, the big agenda item for the Sept. 28 meeting. That will start the bureaucratic process of soliciting comments in order to finalize the auction rules.

For FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, getting more spectrum into the marketplace as fast as he can, has been among his highest priorities. "In freeing up spectrum for wireless broadband, incentive auctions will drive faster speeds, greater capacity, and ubiquitous mobile coverage," Genachowski said in a statement. "These are essential ingredients for innovation and leadership in the 21st century economy where smart phones and tablets powered by 4G LTE and Wi-Fi networks are proliferating, and the mobile Internet becomes more important every day."

Tied to the spectrum auctions, the FCC will also take up a review of its current rules for how much spectrum each wireless company could hold in a market, ultimately impacting the auction. No one connected to the wireless industry likes the FCC's current way to determine how much spectrum a company can own, which relies on what is called a "spectrum screen" to calculate the percentage of spectrum in each local market that a company would own following a transaction.

"The current spectrum screen fails to distinguish between the utility of different spectrum bands for wireless broadband communications. We are pleased that the Commission plans to consider improvements to its spectrum aggregation regulations and we look forward to participating in these discussions,” a Sprint spokesman said in a statement.

How much spectrum the FCC will have to auction has always been the big question mark. Washington is also looking at the possibility of reallocating wireless spectrum held by the federal government. "As the single largest spectrum user, the federal government could save taxpayers money and make more frequencies available to meet American consumers' growing demand for mobile broadband services, while improving its own capabilities," said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, which will hold a hearing next week on federal spectrum.