What's for sale? The FCC's grand experiment
The FCC's open access portion of the auction is an experiment never anticipated by Congress.
In late 2005, Congress voted to set a hard deadline of Feb. 17, 2009, for television broadcasters to vacate their analog spectrum as part of the digital television (DTV) transition. Congress ordered the FCC to auction the vacated spectrum -- UHF television channels 52-69 by the end of January of 2008 to the highest bidder.
The entire block of spectrum is expected to fetch between $15 billion and $20 billion. Part of the auction proceeds will be used for a subsidy program to help the 15 percent of U.S. households without cable buy digital converter boxes. Still other portions of the proceeds will be used for a nationwide first responders network. The rest will go directly to the U.S. Treasury to reduce the federal deficit.
Only one-third of the overall spectrum available is subject to the FCC's open mandate. The rest of the spectrum, divided into various block sizes, will be auctioned to the highest bidder.
"The auction provides a rare chance to promote innovation and consumer choice without disrupting existing networks or business plans," Martin said. "Indeed, the vast majority of spectrum used for wireless services will remain without restrictions."
Perhaps anticipating a backlash from incumbent carriers, Martin also emphasized the open access mandate is a very narrow one confined to only one spectrum block. According to Martin, network neutrality rules, unbundling obligations and wholesale requirements are not productive and undermine private sector investments.
"I do not support such regulations," he said. "We must continue to encourage the critical investment needed to build the next generation wireless network. [The auction rules order] does not apply these regulations to this block or any other block. The Commission has found the right balance between providing incentives for infrastructure investment and fostering innovation for new services and products."
But the open network mandate, Martin insists, is one rule that is critical.
"I have said it before, but it bears repeating: The upcoming auction presents the single-most important opportunity for us to achieve the goal of a nationwide third broadband pipe," he said.
The only question now is whether someone is willing to step up and challenge the wireless incumbents.
This article was first published on InternetNews.com.