House committee members ask FCC to reject Frontline
A Republican-dominated group of House Commerce Committee members this week released a letter sent to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin asking that the Frontline Wireless proposal be dismissed and let the 700 MHz commercial auction proceed with no public-safety, wholesale or open-access obligations.
Frontline has proposed that the FCC establish a 10 MHz “E block” in the auction, with the winner of the spectrum being obligated to negotiate with a national public-safety licensee to build a nationwide wireless broadband network using the E block airwaves and 12 MHz of adjacent public-safety frequencies. The Frontline plan also calls for the E block licensee to provide only wholesale service to customers other than public safety and agree to open-access requirements.
Signed by 12 Republicans—most notably, ranking committee member Joe Barton (R-Texas)—and four junior Democrats, the letter states that including the latter obligations in commercial spectrum rules would be “inappropriate.”
“Suggestions to impose wholesale and so-called open access requirements … are blatant poison pills to discourage competing bids and to lower the price of spectrum,” the letter states. “Business models should be left to the market, not hard-wired into auctions.”
While supporting the notion of a public-private partnership on public safety’s 12 MHz of spectrum, the letter cites several potential risks involved with putting public-safety obligations on the E block, because the public-safety requirements would not be solidified for some time.
“The odds of crafting precisely the right auction conditions, that create precisely the right model and that result in precisely the right winner, who will then agree to public safety’s requirements, are minimal at best,” the letter states. “We are likely to be left with no bidder, or a winner who will neither meet the needs of public safety nor relinquish the license without a fight.”
Frontline Wireless Vice Chairman Reed Hundt this week said Frontline’s proposal would not preclude existing wireless carriers like Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility—formerly know as Cingular Wireless—from bidding on the E block spectrum.
However, Frontline’s updated proposed rules would require the E block licensee to “be limited to providing service to public safety users, entities that provide retail service and products to end users, and providers and operators of critical infrastructure”—a stipulation that carriers with millions of retail consumer customers almost certainly would be willing to follow.
With this in mind, the letter asks Martin to reject the Frontline plan.
“Let us not mistake this proposal for what it is: yet another attempt to get valuable spectrum on the cheap,” the letter states.