Company asks FCC to hold airwaves auction debate

WASHINGTON Fri Jun 29, 2007 7:36pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A start-up wireless company has proposed a high-stakes debate with Verizon Communications before U.S. regulators considering how the government should conduct an auction of valuable wireless spectrum.

Frontline Wireless asked the Federal Communications Commission to hold the debate early next month as the agency weighs competing proposals for the auction 700 megahertz band airwaves.

The rules of the auction will be crucial for major players such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc. that want to bolster their networks, as well as for dozens of regional and local players. Verizon wireless is owned by Verizon Communications and Vodafone Group Plc.

Frontline has proposed that whoever wins one of the blocks of spectrum be required to build a national network shared with commercial and public safety users. It has also proposed anopen-access provision that would mean any company with a device or phone could pay to use or lease the winning bidder's network.

Verizon opposes an open-access requirement, arguing it would diminish the value of the spectrum and be a form of Internet regulation.

The auction has been the subject of intense lobbying at the FCC. In its letter to FCC chairman Kevin Martin on Friday, Frontline suggested an open debate between its chief executive, Haynes Griffin and Verizon chief executive Ivan Seidenberg during the week of July 9.

The two sides would "present and debate their competing plans for providing in the critical auction at least one certain outcome: the build-out of a national interoperable wireless broadband network for all American first responders," Frontline's letter said in its letter.

Verizon Wireless spokesman Jeffrey Nelson said the FCC already has open procedures for debating the issue.

"Were going to use the FCC's open process for advancing our point of view," said Jeffrey Nelson, a spokesman for Verizon Wireless.

The airwaves are being returned by broadcasters as they move from analog to digital signals early in 2009 and are considered valuable because they can travel long distances and penetrate thick walls. The auction is seen as the last opportunity for a new player to enter the wireless market.

FCC officials are expected to hold the sale later this year and are in the process of setting the auction rules.

The FCC is working within a tight time frame as it must begin the auction no later than January 28, 2008 and deposit the proceeds into the U.S. Treasury by June 30, 2008.

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