FCC Delays Wireless Auction

FRAMINGHAM (05/08/2000) - The Federal Communications Commission, as expected, last week formally delayed the auction of next-generation mobile wireless spectrum from June until September, following complaints from broadcasters and wireless carriers that the rushed process didn't allow time to resolve potential conflicts.

The FCC, in a tersely worded public notice, said it postponed the auction of spectrum in frequency bands occupied by television channels 60 to 69 "in order to provide additional time for bidder preparation and planning."

BellSouth Corp. in Atlanta, US West Inc. in Denver and Verizon Wireless in Bedminster, New Jersey, all asked the FCC to delay the auction. In a letter to FCC Chairman William Kennard last month, US West asked for a delay in the auction, saying this "would allow the Commission time to conclude expedited rule-making processing that would facilitate clearing broadcasters" from the spectrum to be auctioned.

The National Association of Broadcasters, in its own letter to Kennard in February, said conducting the auction could "contravene" congressional directions to ensure that TV stations can continue to use those channels to provide analog television service until the switch to digital TV is finished.

A spokesman for Rep. Billy Tauzin (Republican-Louisiana), chairman of the House Telecommunications Committee, said, "Billy thinks it makes sense to delay the auction until we can develop a sound spectrum policy." Congress mandated that the FCC conduct the auction of the spectrum in time to deposit proceeds in the Treasury by the end of this fiscal year, Sept. 30.

An auction of similar spectrum in the U.K. last month raised $35 billion, and analysts have projected that proceeds from a U.S. auction could top $100 billion. But, Tauzin's spokesman said, "We just can't auction spectrum to balance the budget" without first addressing issues raised by television broadcasters using channels 60 to 69 and the carriers that want to bid on the spectrum.

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