NCTA: Let Cable Bid on Broadcast Spectrum

The Federal Communications Commission would like to promote competition in broadband wireless services by excluding one competitor from an upcoming auction of spectrum: cable-system operators.

But the National Cable & Telecommunications Association argued last week in a filing with the FCC that cable need not be kept out of the bidding for old broadcast-TV airwaves.

The NCTA, the industry's largest lobbying organization, said that cable-operator participation would promote competition in the wireless-broadband market. Cable firms would not warehouse spectrum in an effort to protect cable-modem revenue, the association said.

“Spending billions of dollars to purchase spectrum that they have no intention of using would be a useless allocation of resources that cable operators engaged in a competitive battle with telephone companies, direct-broadcast satellite providers and others can ill afford to waste,” the NCTA said in its filing.

A coalition that includes the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Media Access Project, New America Foundation and Public Knowledge asked the FCC to ban cable and phone companies from bidding because of their dominant position in the broadband-access market.

The coalition maintained in an FCC filing Wednesday that the establishment of a wireless-broadband provider unaffiliated with cable or phone companies was needed to purge the market of duopoly control. “Exclusion of existing incumbents remains the simplest way to create a class of new entrants able to compete with existing providers,” the coalition said.

The FCC has until next January to begin the auction, which involves the sale of 60 Megahertz of spectrum now controlled by local TV stations. On Feb. 17, 2009, the stations lose access to spectrum as part of the national transition from analog to digital TV. The auction winners need the stations to vacate before they can begin using the spectrum. Auction revenue is expected to reach at least $10 billion.

The NCTA said the broadband-access market wasn't as static as claimed.