FCC postpones March wireless auction

InfoWorld |  Government

By George A. Chidi

AT THE REQUEST of Verizon Wireless, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has postponed until Sept. 12 the auction of wireless spectrum licenses previously scheduled for March, the commission announced Wednesday.

Verizon submitted a letter in January to the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, requesting a postponement of the licenses auction in the 747MHz-762MHz and 777MHz-792MHz bands, according to an FCC statement. While dissent arose in the public comment period from interest groups such as the Rural Telecommunications Group, a majority of comment supported the postponement, the statement said.

"The Bureau believes that a brief delay is warranted to provide additional time for bidder preparation and planning and for reasons of auction administration," the FCC statement said.

The decision was not unanimous.

"I believe Congress spoke clearly when it required this Commission to auction this 700MHz spectrum so as to 'ensure that all proceeds of such bidding are deposited . . . not later than Sept. 30, 2001.'" wrote Republican commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth in dissent. "Each delay only brings the agency further out of compliance with the law . . . Indeed, each postponement points out significant Commission shortcomings: non-compliance with the law, poor auction schedule management, and the repeated disruption of public expectations."

Democratic commissioner Gloria Tristani defended the decision in a statement.

"At this point, the scheduling problems before us are of a different nature and largely of this agency's own making," Tristani said. "For example, the timing of back-to-back auctions, with overlapping 'quiet periods' that prohibit bidders from engaging in discussions with others not previously disclosed, provides only limited opportunity to assess spectrum needs and no time between auctions to consider new marketplace realities."

Legal questions about the last auction remain unresolved as well. In December the FCC completed a $17 billion auction of "C-block" personal communications services spectrum reclaimed from the bankrupt company NextWave Telecom.

While the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that bankruptcy court couldn't stop the FCC from canceling 90 of NextWave's wireless personal communications services licenses and re-auctioning them, the company is still fighting the move along different lines in the U.S. Court of Appeals, claiming the FCC had no authority to reclaim the licenses. Oral arguments are scheduled for March.

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