Senator Dorgan Urges FCC to Ensure Spectrum Auction Leads to Open Access


Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) has called for FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to make sure the upcoming auction of reclaimed analog TV spectrum results in low-cost broadband to rural customers like his constituents and open access to portable devices and software applications. The FCC is set to vote on rules for the auction on Tuesday, July 31.

In a letter to Martin today, Dorgan called for the auction to include spectrum that would be open to access to different types of wireless handsets and software applications and have geographic build-out requirements. Martin has been somewhat agreeable on both counts. But Dorgan also wants the spectrum open to reselling at wholesale prices—there the two part company.

"We need to create a license in the 700 MHz band that sells access on a wholesale basis to any buyer on the same terms and conditions," he said in a letter to Martin Monday. "This will open the door for a wave of new products and services.”

It would also open the door to Google’s plan to bid on spectrum to create a wireless network for data and video in competition to the telcos and others. Google has proposed to meet a $4.6 billion floor price for a block of spectrum with open access conditions, but only if it can be wholesaled as well.

Martin has supported open access conditions on a third of the 60 MHz of spectrum up for sale, saying that it would be consumer- and competition-friendly. But he has stopped short of the wholesale provision, which Google has been pushing for. Martin has said he is looking to balance openness that encourages innovation and consumer choice but also wants incentives to invest in the underlying network, which he thinks would be discouraged if the winning bidder had to wholesale spectrum to competitors.

Dorgan, a big fan of competition to entrenched networks and media companies, also asked Martin for geographic build-out requirements. "This auction should ensure that there is ample opportunity for small and mid-size telecommunications firms to acquire licenses," Dorgan wrote. "These licenses should bear geographic based build-out requirements to assure coverage of rural and urban areas alike."

The Martin plan does have geographic build-out requirements on the spectrum set aside in smaller blocks for small and medium-sized companies to bid on, with a requirement that 35% of the geographic area build out within four years and 70% by the end of the 10-year license term.

The larger block of spectrum that could be used for a national network has population-based build-out requirements.