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McDowell: Incentive Auctions Should Be ‘Future Proof'

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell plans to tell a Mobile World Congress audience in Barcelona Tuesday that he will work for "minimal" and "future proof" rules for the upcoming spectrum incentive auctions.

That is according to an advance copy of his speech.

Incentive auction legislation approved by Congress two weeks ago prevents the FCC from limiting who can participate in the auction. McDowell told his international audience he thought the FCC would still be able to "offer opportunities for small, medium and large companies to bid for and secure licenses."

McDowell was not opposed to Congress limiting the FCC's ability to condition the auction. He has long complained of the conditions on the FCC's 2008 auction of the first tranche of broadcast spectrum reclaimed in the DTV transition. Those are widely believed to have discouraged bidders and reduced revenue from the auction.

"The lesson learned from that auction and others is that when governments attempt to conduct social and economic engineering by foisting unnecessarily complicated mandates on the use of spectrum, their efforts frequently backfire," McDowell said. He said he thought the FCC could get it right this time.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski the day before took a quite different tack, saying that the auction legislation's limits on the FCC could reduce the benefits of the auction to mobile broadband and the public. And getting it right, he said means "avoiding regulatory hubris by keeping governments' hands off of the marketplace's steering wheel as much as possible."

While they disagreed on that point the chairman and McDowell brought the same message about the value of unlicensed spectrum, and of not adopting a government-centric model of Internet governance.

Both were referring to an upcoming telecom conference in Dubai where an international treaty on the exchange of telecom traffic is being renegotiated.

McDowell said of the possibility that the treaty could be modified to include governance of Internet traffic. "The peril lies with changes that would ultimately sweep up Internet services into decades-old ITU paradigms. If successful, these efforts would merely imprison the future in the regulatory dungeon of the past.  Even more counterproductive would be the creation of a new international body to oversee Internet governance."