By Alina Selyukh
WASHINGTON Dec 6 The U.S. Federal
Communications Commission, as long predicted, now plans to hold
the so-called incentive auction of broadcast airwaves in
mid-2015, a year later than originally intended, the agency
chairman said on Friday.
The FCC is now drafting rules for the auction that would
reshuffle the ownership of valuable frequencies among TV
stations, as well as wireless carriers, which are clamoring for
faster speeds and better services for their devices.
"I believe we can conduct a successful auction in the middle
of 2015," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a blog post on
As part of this reverse auction, the FCC would pay
broadcasters to voluntarily give up control of low-frequency
airwaves so that they can be sold to telecommunications
companies such as Verizon Communications Inc, AT&T Inc
, Sprint Corp and T-Mobile US Inc..
The auction is widely regarded as the most complex
undertaking by the FCC to date, balancing numerous economic,
engineering and political considerations, including a vocal push
from smaller carriers for limits to how much spectrum their
larger competitors will be allowed to acquire.
"The enormous complexity of this task cannot be overstated,"
Joan Marsh, AT&T's vice president of federal regulatory affairs,
said in a statement on Friday.
"While AT&T is eager to see new spectrum allocations brought
to market as soon as practical, we appreciate the enormity of
the task the commission faces and believe that it is essential
that time be taken to get it right," Marsh said.
The FCC launched the planning for the incentive auction
under its previous chairman, Julius Genachowski, with the hope
of completing it by 2014. But the complexity of the task had
long spurred predictions of a delay.
"Given the complexity of the auction and its many moving
parts, the most important goal is to get the auction done
right," National Association of Broadcasters President and Chief
Executive Gordon Smith said in welcoming the new timeline.
AT&T and Verizon, two biggest U.S. carriers, currently
control the biggest portion of the frequencies under one
gigahertz, the part of the spectrum that is the subject of this
auction and valued for its strength and reach.
Sprint, T-Mobile, regional carriers and satellite company
Dish Network Corp have urged the FCC to ensure they get
their share of this spectrum.
The question of whether the FCC should restrict AT&T's and
Verizon's participation in the auction has turned into a fierce
back-and-forth, fueled particularly by the Department of
Justice's controversially siding with Sprint and T-Mobile and
saying that caps would ensure competitiveness.
The biggest carriers have argued that setting limits unique
to just two companies would be a regulatory overreach and that
caps may dampen how much the FCC raises in the auction.
The auction proceeds are required to pay broadcasters as
well as help fund a new $7 billion public safety network.