FCC reconsidering spectrum cap to boost 3G wireless networks

By Ephraim Schwartz, InfoWorld |  Government

HERE'S A CHANCE to be a part of democracy at work. (That is if someone in the new administration is listening. Otherwise, you'll just think you're participating.) The Federal Communications Commission is reviewing Section 20.6 on "spectrum aggregation limits."

This is a cap that restricts the amount of broadband spectrum that a single wireless network provider can own in a geographic area. This range includes the PCS cellular service and any future 3G (third-generation) wireless spectrum that may be licensed -- unless network providers can demonstrate a need for "significant adverse effect on its ability to provide 3G or other advanced mobile services" without a cap waiver.

The FCC is re-examining this rule, which restricts to 45MHz the amount of broadband spectrum that a single entity can own in any geographic area, and is taking comment until April 13. Replies to the comments will be accepted until May 14.

The rule also says that an entity with a controlling interest in one area may have a noncontrolling interest of "up to 5 percent" in another cellular license in overlapping areas.

"The FCC seeks comment on whether the . . . spectrum cap and the cellular cross-interest rule should be eliminated, modified, or retained based on the public interest . . ." and whether the current rule inhibits "the development of advanced wireless services," according to FCC documentation

According to FCC bulletins in the past, the rule is there to "promote competition and protect consumers." Consumer protection, I assume, means protection against higher prices. You can send comments to the Office of the Secretary at www.fcc.gov/osec. Here are the links for filing comments: www.fcc.gov/wtb/csinfo/paper.html and www.fcc.gov/wtb/csinfo/electronic.html.

There are good arguments to be made on both sides of this issue.

Travis Larsen, a representative for the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, articulates as well as anyone I know why the FCC should rescind the rule.

By limiting the amount of spectrum available, Larsen says, the quality of service suffers. The less spectrum for callers, the more likely, for example, that there will be dropped calls. Second, less spectrum means less room for innovative services, he says.

If U.S. companies don't own a large enough spectrum, they will also lack the monetary incentive to devote their resources to creating new services that require more spectrum.

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