FCC: Gearing up for the auction and new white space tests

By Brian Dolan

The Federal Communications Commission held an open meeting today to review its accomplishments last year and to anticipate the issues facing the telecom industry in 2008. While the meeting included discussions of every department within the U.S. telecommunications regulator, a couple of wireless issues stood out: the upcoming 700 MHz auction, renewed testing on white space devices and an uptick in consumer complaints.

700 MHz spectrum auction

Comments by three FCC commissioners indicated mixed expectations on whether a bidder would emerge for the D Block spectrum in the upcoming 700 MHz auction now that Frontline Wireless is closed for business. FCC chairman Kevin Martin said that the commission is standing by its rules for the D Block and is "optimistic" about the chances of a bidder taking on "the burden of working with public safety officials" to build out a public-private network.

Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein hinted that the D Block's fate is still uncertain: "Finally, with only one week before the [700 MHz] auction, we are seeing a lot of interest—maybe not as much interest as we hoped in some areas [laughs] but we are seeing a lot of interest."

Finally, commissioner Michael Copps expressed concern over the fate of the D Block now that Frontline was out of the picture, noting: "I'm hoping it won't have to come to this, but if [the reserve price on the D Block isn't met] we'll have to pause and do this thing over again—going back to square one."

While the FCC is keen on helping public safety officials construct a nationwide network using part of the D Block of spectrum, it also needs to ensure that the auction fetches more than $10 billion in proceeds since Congress has already spent the money. If the D Block does not fetch its $1.33 billion minimum bid, then the commission could miss its mark.

Adelstein quipped: "Imagine if we got a little commission from these auctions—can you imagine? We'd be driving around in limos just like those we oversee."

The FCC also noted that they completed processing the final applications for the AWS licenses in record time last year—just over six months. The commission also completed five spectrum auctions during 2007 and raised $162.3 million as a result.

White Spaces

During its open meeting today the FCC also noted that its Office of Engineering has begun testing four new devices that are designed to run on the white spaces of spectrum that sits between broadcasters' DTV airwaves. The FCC is reviewing four devices from Microsoft, Philips, Motorola and Adaptrum as part of phase two of white space testing.

Consumer Complaints

The FCC also released some metrics regarding the number of complaints it received from wireless subscribers: Complaints about wireless services rose 14 percent during the first quarter of last year for a total of 5,242 complaints.

About 9.6 percent of the complaints were about carrier marketing and advertising, while about 9.7 percent of them were over early termination fees (ETFs). Some 16.6 percent of complaints from consumers had to do with service quality, while an equal number concerned the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Finally, 47.8 percent of complaints had to do with billing practices and rate plans from carriers.