updated 06:00 pm EDT, Wed May 14, 2014
Letters from both sides of government show bipartisan gridlock on issue
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler has confirmed that he plans to limit how much spectrum AT&T and Verizon can buy in the 2015 auction of bandwidth reclaimed from TV broadcasters after the shift to digital broadcasting. As with his net neutrality stance, the proposal is drawing heated debate and strong opinions from Congress as well as industry sources.
Wheeler wants to retain 30MHz of the 120MHz in every market for bidding by smaller carriers that hold less than 30 percent of the airwaves in the market. AT&T is concerned that the bandwidth restriction will limit LTE network deployment to one large carrier in each market, and unfairly favor Sprint. The telecom giant initially threatened to boycott the auction, but blinked after the FCC didn't change the rule.
House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) wrote to the FCC charimant that "the FCC must not be in the business of picking winners and losers by excluding parties from the auction or constraining parties' ability to bid."
Representative Darrel Issa (R-CA) also opposes the plan, calling it "selling each and every mile of the Mississippi." Fellow Republicans, including Issa believe that "This is not how a market-based auction should function; it is how a cartel controls price."
The Democratic side of the House of Representatives believes that the idea has some merit -- it said en masse in a letter to the FCC chairman that the limit of sales to the larger carriers "will stimulate auction competition and revenues" as well as serving to "ensure opportunity to bid and win spectrum to enhance and extend rural build out and improve coverage in all areas, while guarding against excessive concentration of spectrum resources."