Martin Defends Open Access Spectrum Plan


FCC Chairman Kevin Martin defended his plan Tuesday to require 22 mHz of analog TV spectrum being auctioned for advanced wireless services be open to a range of devices and software applications.

At an oversight hearing in the House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee, Martin said he was not proposing the open access conditions to help out Google, which asked for the open access condition, promising to bid the minimum $4.6 billion the FCC has set as a floor price for the spectrum.

He said Google also wanted the FCC to require the spectrum to be open to reselling at wholesale prices, which Martin does not support. Martin said his proposal was to benefit consumers instead of just one company.

Martin is allied with the two commission Democrats--Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein-- in support of the access provisions. Republican Robert McDowell said he was leaning against it and Republican Deborah Taylor Tate said she had not made up her mind.

Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) strongly supports applying the Carterfone-like access requirements for the new spectrum (that was the decision that forced phone companies to allow outside phones to be plugged into network), which is intended to help create a competing national broadband wireless network.

 Markey twice pushed McDowell and Tate to support the access requirements without success, though Martin appears to have his bipartisan majority.

The former subcommittee chairman, Fred Upton (R-Mich.), was one of the access provision's strongest opponents, saying that the proposal sounded like a gamble with the DTV transition, billions of dollars for the treasury and public safety at stake.

That's because the auction proceeds are going towards, among other things, $1 billion dollars in aid to first responders and $1.5 billion to pay for digital-to-analog converter boxes. Critics of access requirements say that could discourage competing bidders and lower the auction revenue. It could also drive larger companies to the smaller blocks of spectrum being set aside for smaller bidders, including minorities and women.

Martin said that the open access conditions and breaking some of the spectrum up into smaller blocks would likely reduce the take from the auction, but that the FCC had to look beyond that balance sheet alone to the consumer interest in having a network open to a variety of handsets and software applications.

Also criticizing the access condition was former Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.), who said he was "very disappointed" in the Martin plan. But not all Republicans were unhappy:  Charles Pickering (R-Miss.), applauded the plan, saying the conditions would foster competition and benefit consumers.

 The oversight hearing touched on the DTV transition--Martin said the FCC is doing the best it can to educated the public with the money it has been given. It also touched on the Tribune sale. Martin said he hoped the FCC could rule on the deal and Tribune's waiver requests by the end of the year.