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Today, the Federal Communications Commission voted to approve an Order paving the way for the "incentive auction" of broadcast spectrum in the first quarter of 2016. The Commission’s action also establishes a clear path for unlicensed spectrum in the 600 MHz band. While the FCC was unable to preserve the framework agreed to in 2014 that would allow for nationwide unlicensed spectrum in the 600 MHz band duplex gap, it did find a solution that will likely enable unlicensed use of vacant broadcast television channels in markets where broadcasters are relocated to the duplex gap.
While the Commission maintained the spectrum reserve it created in an effort to promote wireless competition, it failed to take further action to increase competition. First, the Commission denied requests to expand the size of the spectrum reserve to increase likelihood that non-dominant carriers are able to acquire much needed low-band spectrum in the incentive auction. Additionally, the Commission failed to alter the spectrum reserve’s trigger mechanisms to preclude anti-competitive bidding behavior by the largest carriers.
The following can be attributed to Phillip Berenbroick, Counsel, Government Affairs at Public Knowledge:
"Today, the FCC cleared the way for the first of its kind spectrum "incentive auction" to take place in early 2016. The auction will free up much needed additional spectrum for wireless services, and critically, moves toward ensuring that there is sufficient unlicensed spectrum for innovation and next generation Wi-Fi in the 600 MHz band.
“The Commission’s action to preserve sufficient unlicensed spectrum in the 600 MHz band is a vital step toward promoting innovative spectrum uses and stimulating the investment and deployment of next generation Wi-Fi. Unlicensed spectrum increases Internet access, encourages permissionless innovation, and drives economic growth. The Commission’s recognition of the importance of unlicensed spectrum and efforts to ensure there is a place for unlicensed in the 600 MHz band should serve as a blueprint for future spectrum allocations.
“We are disappointed that the Commission failed to increase the size of the spectrum reserve for competitive carriers and address problems with the spectrum reserve trigger. The existence of the spectrum reserve is an important step towards promoting wireless competition; however, we remain concerned that the FCC's failure to increase the size of the reserve and to prevent anti-competitive bidding practices will undermine the Commission's efforts to increase auction participation and competition. We urge the Commission to be vigilant during the incentive auction to ensure carriers do not engage in anti-competitive conduct.
“The incentive auction is an unprecedented opportunity to increase the spectrum available for unlicensed uses and increase competition in the wireless market, and we intend to continue to work with the FCC to help it achieve these goals.”