FCC Launches AWS3 Auction Framework

The FCC voted Monday to begin the process of auctioning 65 MHz of AWS3 spectrum, part of a congressional--and White House--mandate to free up wireless spectrum for mobile broadband.

It will be the largest amount of spectrum auctioned since the FCC's 2008 700 MHz auction.

It will be the third of three spectrum auctions mandated by Congress to fund the FirstNet interoperable broadband network, as well as local first responders, advanced 911, R&D, and deficit reduction.

The first auction, or H block spectrum, collected $1.564 billion toward that goal (FirstNet alone is $7 billion), but the FCC is already predicting that the AWS3 auction will raise most if not all of that $7 billion, putting less pressure on the third auction, the broadcast incentive auction, scheduled for 2015.

The AWS3 auction is slated for later this year.

“The AWS-3 Report and Order will set the stage for the auction of 65 megahertz later this year, including the critical pairing of the 1755-80 MHz band with the 2155-80 MHz band," said CITA: The Wireless Association, in a statement.

"Bringing this spectrum to market will play a key role in meeting demand for mobile broadband services, driving investment and innovation and fulfilling the goals of the National Broadband Plan. Although more work remains to be done to maximize commercial access to this band and make available information about the band to potential bidders, the AWS-3 Report and Order is an important step toward bringing this spectrum to market."

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the FCCs' goal was to get that spectrum to market faster, smarter and sooner and that the money the auction will bring in will indeed free the FCC to develop more "robust" incentives for broadcasters in the incentive auction, as well as pay for FirstNet, which Rosenworcel said was instrumental in making part of the auction authorizing legislation when she was a staffer for Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D- W. Va.).

Commissioner Ajit Pai said the FCC was using the right kind of auction to sell off the right spectrum. He was particularly pleased that the rules allowed for open eligibility and uncapped participation, something he has pushed for in the broadcast incentive auctions.

Although both commissioners voted for the item, they were not happy with the interoperability provision. Pai said it was probably not harmful, but took issue since he said the FCC had not proposed it in the rulemaking and so it would be arbitrary and capricious to adopt it in the order.

Commissioner O'Rielly called it stealth regulation.

The AWS3 spectrum auction is requiring some relocation of government spectrum users, which Wheeler described as an "unnatural act" for those agencies. He thanked agencies like DOJ and DOD for being willing to engage in that act.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.