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Spectrum Bill Gets Shout Outs

Reaction poured in after spectrum incentive auctions were included in the payroll tax extension bill, legislation that will allow the FCC to pay broadcasters to exit spectrum.

The following statement can be attributed to Vonya B. McCann, senior VP for government affairs, Sprint:

"Sprint agrees with the Federal Communications Commission that all wireless carriers -- small, regional and large -- should have a meaningful chance to participate in wireless spectrum auctions. While we didn't see the need to amend the statute, the compromise language approved by the conferees preserves the FCC's ability to promote competition as it conducts future wireless spectrum auctions."

The bill as amended by House Republicans does not allow the FCC to exclude any bidders as part of specific auction rules, the amendment Sprint did not support, and it does not prevent the FCC from applying general rules broadly to auctions if it does so through a rulemaking process.

"Supporting the final passage of this compromise legislation will help drive the expansion of high speed mobile broadband across the country thereby encouraging innovation, stimulating our economy and better meeting the needs of wireless consumers," said McCann.

AT&T, concerned about being excluded, was pleased that amendment language was made part of the bill.

"In our industry, there has been much focus in recent weeks on whether the FCC should or should not be able to exclude qualified wireless carriers from bidding in these spectrum auctions," said Jim Cicconi,  AT&T senior executive VP, external and legislative affairs in a statement. "The final legislation speaks clearly on this point: The FCC may not do so as part of any auction proceeding.  Instead, it could only make such a decision through a separate public rulemaking with general industry applicability, and not through the backdoor of special auction rules. This provides procedural safeguards, and also an opportunity for a court challenge."

The FCC has indicated that it was not looking to exclude any bidders, but instead wanted to make sure bidders large and small had a fair shot at spectrum. "We take the FCC Chairman at his word when he says there is no intent to have closed auctions that deny AT&T and other carriers the ability to fairly and fully participate," said Cicconi, "but we also feel it important that Congress has now made its views clear as well."

The Consumer Electronics Association has pushed to get spectrum back from broadcasters, saying it was being underutilized. "CEA has long advocated for the passage of legislation that authorizes the FCC to hold voluntary incentive spectrum auctions," said CEA president Gary Shapiro in a statement. "Today we commend the Conferees for including voluntary spectrum auctions in the conference report and urge quick passage by the House and Senate. "Such auctions will not only bring much needed revenue to the U.S. Treasury, but they will also promote innovation and spur job creation in America. This congressional action advances the deployment of a 21st century wireless broadband infrastructure, helping to ensure that the United States remains the world's leading Internet innovator."

Free Press was pleased the FCC would be given some flexibility to allocate more spectrum for unlicensed wireless -- though that would be confined to so-called guard bands between licensed users. "Today's news is undeniably good for unlicensed spectrum, a public resource that drives economic growth and spurs technological innovation," said Free Press Action Fund executive director Matt Wood. "Recent weeks have seen an outpouring of strong bipartisan support for keeping some prime spectrum available for such beneficial uses, if and when the FCC repurposes portions of the TV band. Advocacy groups like ours have joined together with the cable industry, tech companies and small businesses around the nation to call for this much-needed result."

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association is all for freeing more unlicensed wireless spectrum, which it is using to extend the reach of Internet for its customers via Wi-Fi hot spots.

Wood was not so happy with the language preventing the FCC from excluding bidders. "Unfortunately, reports on today's deal also suggest that harmful provisions about auction design remain in the text, though the damage may not be as great as we initially feared. We are glad that the agreement would preserve at least some of the tools the FCC needs to assign licenses in the public interest and prevent further erosion of competition among wireless providers," a reference to the generally applicable rules it could apply through a rulemaking.

"We commend the negotiators from the Senate and House for coming up with a bill that will preserve the future of unlicensed spectrum while also allowing for the Federal Communications Commission to have flexibility in creating spectrum auctions to protect competition," said Public Knowledge legal director Harold Feld. "We are also pleased that the conferees deleted language preventing the FCC from implementing even the modest open Internet rules for wireless services."

The House Republican version of the bill expressly prevented those conditions on any auction. The FCC is still prevented by the legislation from imposing those conditions on a particular auction or bidder, but could try to apply that generally to all wireless auctions, again through a general rulemaking.