Free Press Action Fund Welcomes House Conferees’ Agreement on Unlicensed Spectrum

Compromise language would resolve unlicensed-spectrum concerns, but other provisions would harm FCC auction flexibility
Contact Info: 

Jenn Ettinger, 202-265-1490 x 35

WASHINGTON -- On Thursday, members of the House of Representatives negotiating the payroll tax cut extension reportedly reached a compromise on provisions related to spectrum. The agreement would establish firmly the FCC's ability to preserve unlicensed use in the current TV band, even if the FCC reallocates and then auctions some of that band for wireless broadband. However, the agreement would limit the FCC's flexibility to design spectrum auctions in ways that promote competition.

Free Press Action Fund Policy Director Matt Wood made the following statement:

"Today's news is undeniably good for unlicensed spectrum, a public resource that drives economic growth and spurs technological innovation. Recent weeks have seen an outpouring of strong bipartisan support for keeping some prime spectrum available for such beneficial uses, if and when the FCC repurposes portions of the TV band. Advocacy groups like ours have joined together with the cable industry, tech companies and small businesses around the nation to call for this much-needed result.

"Unlicensed spectrum is vital for Internet companies building tomorrow's technologies and rural providers bringing broadband to unserved portions of the nation. And it's also increasingly important for incumbent providers such as AT&T and Verizon. Efficient unlicensed spectrum technologies such as Wi-Fi already handle more than one-third of the data generated by smartphone users, as well as 90 percent of the traffic from iPads and other tablets. Today's agreement could provide space for the next generation of innovation in this vein.

"We thank Representative Henry Waxman for his tireless efforts in these conference committee negotiations to improve the unlicensed spectrum language and other aspects of the bill, as well as Representatives Eshoo and Issa, and Senators Kerry, Snowe, Warner, Moran, Cantwell and Rockefeller for their leadership on this issue.

"Unfortunately, reports on today's deal also suggest that harmful provisions about auction design remain in the text, though the damage may not be as great as we initially feared. We are glad that the agreement would preserve at least some of the tools the FCC needs to assign licenses in the public interest and prevent further erosion of competition among wireless providers. Parts of the bill the House passed in December would all but ensure that AT&T and Verizon lock up all the most valuable spectrum in any future auction, further tightening the effective duopoly these companies already hold. Bidder-eligibility language aside, the Commission would retain general authority to adopt rules encouraging competitive entry and growth by providers of all sizes.”

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