Frontline Fires Back At Hill Critics


Frontline Wireless--which is pitching the FCC on using some of the soon-to-be-auctioned UHF analog broadcast spectrum for a public-private network-- has responded to high-profile congressional critics of its plan, saying they had gotten their facts wrong.

In a letter to Joe Barton (R-Tex.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.)-- the ranking members of the House Energy & Commerce and Telecommunications Subcommittees. respectively-- the company's principals have asked the pair to reconsider their letter. That letter, which was joined by more than a dozen other Energy & Commerce committee members was sent to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin earlier this weeK opposing the Frontline plan.

 Frontline says it was based on misinformation and included some "flat-out untruths."

 For example: Barton and Upton's assertion that their plan would represent a ban on incumbent communications companies bidding in the upcoming auction, saying anyone could bid so long as they were subject to the same rules. Frontline is proposing that those rules include an open access provision that the legislators say is tantamount to a "poison pill" for incumbents.

Frontline partners Haynes Griffin, Janice Obuchowski and former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt say, however, that AT&T, for one, has already said it would bid on the spectrum with open access conditions.

 The Frontline letter goes on to address the legislators letter point by point, arguing that its proposal would not lower auction revenues and would benefit public safety.

 Frontline is proposing creating a private national wireless network that would serve commercial users but be made available to first responders during emergencies.

Barton and Upton pointed out that some public safety organizations have expressed concerns about the plan.  Frontline responded saying they have plenty of first responders on their side, and has sent a letter to them asking them to weigh-in "immediately" at the FCC and congress in suport of the plan.

 The FCC is expected within the next few weeks to come out with the rules of the road for the auction. It said it wanted to give bidders six months of lead time. While FCC Chairman Kevin Martin had initially wanted to hold the auction in the fall, it now looks like it won't happen until December or January unless the FCC shortens that lead time considerably.

 Congress has mandated that the spectrum must be auctioned by January 28, 2008, as part of the timetable for the switch to all-digital broadcasting in February 2009. Some of the revenues from the auction--up to $1.5 billion of it--is going to fund the digital-to-analog converter box program which will allow analog-only sets receiving an over-the-air picture to continue to recieve a signal after the digital switch is thrown.