Massachusetts Telecom Department Seeks Spectrum Aggregation Limits

The Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Cable has told the FCC it should limit how much low-band spectrum a bidder can get in the upcoming broadcast incentive auctions.

That could principally affect Verizon and AT&T's participation—they already have the majority of low band, which most put at about 70%, but Massachusetts' telecom department says is more like 85% on a MHz POP basis.

In a filing at the commission in the incentive auction docket, the department said it allied itself with the comments of the Department of Justice, which has already said the FCC should come up with some "competition-focused" rules on spectrum acquisitions, particularly auctions, including taking into account the differing propagation qualities of different spectrum bands that make one more valuable than another.

Separate from the auctions, the FCC has asked for input on how and whether it should adjust its local market spectrum concentration screens, which are not hard caps, but trigger further review of whether such concentration is in the public interest.

Massachusetts weighed in in both dockets with its take, which is that the FCC should consider incentive auction rules that would "limit the total post-auction sub-1 GHz spectrum holdings to some specified percentage of the total available sub-1 GHz spectrum, and specifically limit the amount of 600 MHz spectrum that any one carrier can accumulate in each auction block."

But the department doesn't want the big carriers to walk away empty handed, either.

"While the rules...could result in some current carriers being excluded from the auction in certain markets, these carriers’ participation in the 600 MHz auction is essential for the rapid development of equipment and services in this band," it said. "Therefore, it is important that every carrier is guaranteed the opportunity to bid on a certain amount of spectrum, even if disqualified in some areas by these objectives."

The FCC is expected to vote on an incentive auction framework item at its May meeting. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has said there would be an item by spring. It is unclear whether the commission will move on the spectrum screen item before the spectrum item, after it, or in tandem.

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.