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FCC Calls for Public Input on Spectrum Auction Advantages

The FCC wants public input on whether it should make it give an advantage in spectrum auctions to parties that have overcome "substantial disadvantage," which could include those with physical or psychological disabilities, the commission used by way of example.

The FCC's Advisory Committee on Diversity recommended creating a bidding credit for that new category of eligible entities, and the Media Bureau and Wireless Bureau Thursday put out a public notice soliciting comment on whether the FCC should propose that rule change.

The commission is working on teeing up some big-ticket spectrum auctions, notably an auction of reclaimed broadcast spectrum as part of the national broadband plan that will offer up billions of dollars worth of spectrum.

The commission is directed by law to try to spread the license wealth among "a wide variety of applicants, including small businesses, rural telephone companies, and businesses owned by members of minority groups and women." For wireless, that has generally meant giving preference in the form a bidding credit, to small businesses. For broadcasters, that has meant "auction applicants with no, or very few, other media interests."

The diversity committee wants to add the "overcoming disadvantage" category, and the FCC has asked for input on what should come under that definition, whether it has the authority to do it at all, at what point would someone become sufficiently advantaged to no longer qualify for the credit, and many other questions.

Media Access Project praised the move, which could open up the credit to such disadvantages as a low-income or minority background. Rainbow PUSH founder Jesse Jackson has frequently pointed out that when spectrum licenses were initially handed out, few minorities had a seat at the table.

"MAP congratulates Chairman Genachowski for taking an important step in promoting diversity and empowering the disadvantaged," said MAP President and former FCC commissioners Tyrone Brown. "By enhancing diversity in media and telecommunications, these changes would benefit all Americans, not just the direct recipients of these important auction benefits."