FCC 700 MHz ruling delayed

A decision on the FCC's auction rules for the much coveted 700 MHz spectrum has been delayed. The commission's open meeting, originally scheduled for 10am EST, was first pushed back by 30 minutes, then postponed until 12:30pm EST. Commissioners didn't walk in until 1:15pm.

At issue is an agenda item covering rules for the 700 MHz spectrum now occupied by television broadcasters. The swath is expected to become available in 2009, when TV stations are scheduled by federal law to vacate it. The spectrum is highly valuable for wireless communications because of its powerful propagation characteristics. Verizon, AT&T, Google, even former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt have indicated their intentions to bid on the spectrum.

The 700 MHz rules, floated in the press over the last two weeks by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, include conditions not previously applied to spectrum auctions. Martin's trial balloon included a proposal to apply open access rules to roughly one-third of the 60 MHz of spectrum that will be put up for auction.

Imposing open access conditions on spectrum licenses has never been done to the extent that it's being proposed. The structure would allow people to buy a mobile phone and select a wireless provider, rather than to be tied into a single provider based on whatever phone they choose, e.g., iPhone users are tied into AT&T. Other conditions in the leaked draft proposal included build-out requirements, a public-private partnership for first-responder communications and a $4.6 billion minimum bid for the open access portion.

The FCC's two Democrats, Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps previously said they'd vote for the proposal. Martin's two fellow Republicans, Commissioners Deborah Taylor Tate and Robert McDowell, were noncommittal.

Delays at open commission meetings have become a regular feature of Martin's administration, as the commissioners engage in last minute debate and draft changes. The regular April meeting was delayed for more than nine hours. Stay tuned to FierceWireless' website for updates on the ruling.

PLUS: Google's head of special initiatives Chris Sacca indicated that the company might bid on the auction whether or not the FCC adopts all of its requested rules. See this Q&A.

For more on the 700 MHz ruling:
- see this Business Week article
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)