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Senators Back Unlicensed Spectrum Set-Asides, More FCC Auction Discretion

A quartet of senators has called on the leadership of that body to steer clear of some of the House Republican-backed proposals for spectrum incentive auction legislation as they work out compromise legislation.

In a letter to majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and minority leader Mitch McConnell, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Olympia Snowe (R-Me.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), advise against limiting the FCC's ability to set aside spectrum from the incentive auctions for more unlicensed wireless use, or limiting the conditions the FCC can put on bidders on that reclaimed broadcast spectrum.

A House-passed, Republican-backed version of that bill would do both those things.

The senators argue that the FCC should have the flexibility to free up more unlicensed spectrum, particularly given the increase in Wi-Fi use by tablet owners. They say such a set-aside could allow for new, uses that "complement" licensed spectrum. "In the rush to fill the treasury's coffers," they say, "we must not neglect the fertile ground for innovation unlicensed spectrum offers."

As for not limiting FCC conditions on auction bidders, they say that while that at first appears to be an effort to ensure openness and competition, instead, "maintaining the FCC's current range of tools for structuring a spectrum auction, as prescribed by the statute, provides the agency [the FCC] with the requisite flexibility to attract a sufficient number of bidders to ensure competitive bidding and maximize auction revenues."

"We appreciate their support of responsible spectrum management legislation, as well as their leadership and continued dedication to the preservation of unlicensed spectrum at this critical time for the American economy," said the Wireless Innovation Alliance. "Curtailing unlicensed uses of spectrum will result in the loss of a crucial platform for ‘innovation without permission' as well as billions of dollars to the U.S. economy."

WIA members include Dell, Google and Microsoft, all of which have long pushed the FCC for more unlicensed wireless, which fuels the Wi-Fi hotspots relied on by computer and smart phone users.