Law passed to postpone wireless spectrum auction

By Cara Garretson, IDG News Service |  Government

U.S. President George W. Bush signed into law a measure that will delay the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) auction of some key wireless spectrum.

The law, signed Wednesday morning, postpones indefinitely an auction scheduled for Wednesday of the 698MHz-to-746MHz band of spectrum, known as the lower 700MHz band. It also delays auctioning of the 747MHz-to-762MHz and the 777MHz-to-792MHz bands, known as the upper 700MHz bands, beyond the recently rescheduled January, 2003 date set by the FCC.

The law gives the FCC the authority to set a new date for both auctions, according to the text of the bill.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation in May to delay the FCC's scheduled Wednesday proceeding. The U.S. Senate and House came to a compromise on the legislation on Tuesday, and both chambers passed the revised bill.

The compromised bill dictates that one small portion of the 700MHz band will be auctioned by the FCC between mid-August and mid-September. That section is viewed as key to providing wireless coverage to rural areas.

Controversy exists over the 700MHz spectrum band because much of it is currently occupied by television broadcasters, which are supposed to move to different swaths of spectrum as part of the industry's transition to digital television. However, no firm date has been set for this move, and lawmakers voted to delay the FCC's auction of those airwaves until the broadcasters' migration plans are clear.

The passage is viewed as a victory for the wireless telecommunications industry. Wireless companies looking to relieve traffic on their existing networks and to launch third-generation, or 3G, high-speed wireless data and voice services would be potential bidders for some of these airwaves. However, the fact that the spectrum in question is currently occupied has lead many in the wireless industry to call for a delay in the auction.

"The president and key members of his administration have provided strong leadership throughout the process of delaying these premature 700MHz auctions," said Tom Wheeler, president and chief executive officer of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association trade group, in a prepared statement. "Today's action enables us to continue the important work of crafting sound spectrum management policies."

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