As most of you know, the FCC will implement its first-ever incentive auction for wireless spectrum. In this auction, television broadcasters will (hopefully) offer for sale—and wireless carriers (among others) will offer to buy—spectrum in the 600 MHz band. The FCC will serve as the auctioneer. It’s all voluntary. How much spectrum gets traded depends on the prices offered by the wireless industry and the prices required by the broadcasters. Ideally, the auction will transfer a significant amount of spectrum to the mobile wireless industry and generate lots of revenue with which to buy stuff (like a new public safety network, E911 upgrades, and a …
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Late last year I had the pleasure of participating in an event on Spectrum Auctions put together by the New America Foundation.  I’ve blogged about the event before, but when it was recently reported that T-Mobile’s CFO, Braxton Carter, stated that consolidation in the mobile wireless sector was inevitable (“It’s not a question of if, it is a question of when”), I was reminded of an interesting anecdote provided by one of the event’s other participants—former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt.     Specifically, Chairman Hundt was recounting his experience in designing and implementing the first PCS spectrum auctions back in the 1990s.  (Watch the first video …
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According to press reports, the Federal Communications Commission is putting the finishing touches on its much-anticipated order establishing the rules for the upcoming voluntary incentive auctions mandated by the Middle Class Tax Relief and Jobs Creation Act of 2012 (the “Spectrum Act”).  The big question, of course, is whether the FCC will impose some sort of bidder exclusion rules that would prohibit—or, at minimum, severely constrain—AT&T and Verizon from acquiring more spectrum in the auction.  While newly-installed FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is playing his cards close to the vest, given the Sixth Circuit’s reasoning in Cincinnati Bell v. FCC, 69 F.3rd 752 (6th Cir. 1995), …
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Last month, I was generously invited to join a panel put together by the New America Foundation (“NAF”) at a Capitol Hill event entitled Spectrum Auctions: Promoting More Mobile Market Competition . . . or Less?  (For those interested, video of my panel is available here.)  It was an honor to participate, and kudos to Michael Calabrese from NAF for putting together a great event.  On the panel, I was joined by Mark Cooper (Consumer Federation of America), Fred Campbell (Competitive Enterprise Institute), and Peter Cramton (professor at the University of Maryland).  I found the discussion interesting, informative, and mostly civil.  The variance in the …
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Last week, the Phoenix Center released my Perspective entitled Will Bidder Exclusions Increase Auction Revenue?  A Review of the Arguments, which assessed the arguments being made about the revenue consequences of excluding AT&T and Verizon from the upcoming broadcast spectrum incentive auction.  While a number of parties have claimed that such exclusions can enhance auction revenues, I show in my Perspective that the economic theories they rely upon do not support the claim.  In fairness, Sprint, T-Mobile, and others are quick to note that they are not proposing to exclude the two most successful carriers completely, but rather are proposing they be subject to a …
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Spectrum Caps 01

Last year, when Congress was debating the voluntary incentive auction provisions of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Jobs Creation Act, many argued—including FCC outgoing Chairman Julius Genachowski—that the Commission should have the authority to adopt auction participation rules so that it could prevent an “excessive concentration of licenses” under Section 309(j)(3)(B) of the Communications Act.  While Congress did not include any specific auction participation rules in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Jobs Creation Act, Section 6404 of the new legislation states that “Nothing … affects any authority the Commission has to adopt and enforce rules of general applicability, including rules concerning spectrum aggregation …
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In a recent speech, outgoing FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski once again reiterated the critical importance of spectrum policy “breakthroughs” to address the “tremendous stress” on the capacity of the nation’s wireless networks “from growing digital demand.”  While Congress and regulators are doing what they can, including addressing tower siting (here and here), reallocating and sharing government spectrum (here and here), and moving forward with the voluntary incentive auctions for broadcast spectrum, these actions represent only partial (and possibly untimely) solutions to spectrum exhaust.  Addressing the problem in the near term will require secondary market transactions for spectrum, where spectrum is reassigned from lower to higher …
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With the ever-present specter of spectrum exhaust hanging over the wireless industry, policymakers are constantly faced with the corresponding question of how to allocate spectrum among competing providers to ensure that market does not devolve into one with “excessive” concentration under Section 309(j)(3)(B) of the Communications Act.  Since the 1990’s, the FCC has tried a variety of approaches—from outright spectrum caps to the current and more flexible case-by-case “spectrum screen”—to try to manage its statutory charge.  As to be expected given the huge stakes at hand, stakeholders vehemently disagree as to the best approach moving forward (particularly with the new voluntary incentive auctions for broadcast …
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Last week, Professor Susan Crawford authored an op-ed entitled What’s Good for Verizon and AT&T Is Terrible for American Consumers.  While Professor Crawford’s emotional argument is a bit scattered, her depiction of an industry in transition provides a useful foundation for discussing the future of broadband in the United States. First, Professor Crawford argues that wireless broadband is a “commodity,” and one that consumers are increasingly using as a substitute for traditional “voice” and “texting” services.  This substitution is arguably true and, as such, we should therefore expect to see broadband providers increasingly employing and experimenting with a variety of pricing plans in an effort …
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