FCC Chairman looking to vote on D-block, AWS-3 auctions next month

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is apparently seeking a vote on two wireless broadband auction initiatives before his chairmanship ends when President Elect Barack Obama takes office in January. Martin is looking to put the re-auction of the public-safety 700 MHz D-block spectrum and the AWS-3 auction, which would require the winning bidder to dedicate 25 percent of its network capacity to free broadband service, on the Dec. 18 agenda.

Both plans are controversial. Some public-safety groups are unhappy with the way the FCC wants to auction the 700 MHz D block, which failed to receive the $1.3 billion minimum bid at auction earlier this year. Under Martin's plan, the FCC's D-block auction would provide options for national and regional licensing subject to relaxed buildout requirements and performance benchmarks for the commercial operator running the network. The FCC is also proposing a cap on the amount operators can charge their public-safety customers. Some public-safety entities are opposed to these relaxed buildout and coverage requirements, saying the FCC has compromised too much to attract a bidder for the spectrum.

The AWS-3 auction is just as controversial. The commission is facing some stiff opposition to the plan from operators such as T-Mobile that worry about interference with the AWS-1 band, but the FCC's own engineering studies show AWS-3 and AWS-1 networks can safely co-exist. T-Mobile has suggested it will launch legal proceedings against the FCC if it follows through with the auction.

Earlier this month, the FCC approved the use of white-space devices, despite intense opposition from the broadcast community. It will be the Obama administration that deals with the repercussions and new wireless auctions in 2009.

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