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AT&T and the FCC are locked in an increasingly contentious battle over proposed rules for incentive auctions of broadcast TV spectrum, reports Fierce Wireless. In a blog post clarifying its position, Robert Quinn, AT&T’s senior vice president-federal regulatory, said the FCC shouldn’t limit participants in auctions of unused television airwaves.”

…”We are concerned that the FCC might actually design auction rules that radically restrict AT&T’s ability to participate in these auctions, which is why we care about this language. Now, if the FCC wants the specific authority to actually block qualified companies from purchasing spectrum or limiting the spectrum they can purchase in these auctions, then it should be transparent and upfront with Congress about its intentions – as well as its reasoning for seeking such authority – so we can all have an informed public debate about the issue”…

At last week’s Consumer Electronics Show, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski pressed for Congress to give the commission the authority to conduct the auctions, but he said that Congress should not tie the FCC’s hands in how it manages the auction process.

“One proposal would prohibit the FCC from allocating any recovered spectrum to innovative unlicensed use; another would eliminate traditional FCC tools for setting terms for participation in auctions,” Genachowski said in a speech last week at CES. “A broad range of America’s top experts on auctions agree that it would not be wise to prejudge or micromanage FCC auction design and band plans.”

At stake is an estimated $25 billion that could be generated by the auction of spectrum licenses currently held by the nation’s local TV broadcasters. Genachowksi said Congress will make a decision on incentive auctions by March 1.

T-Mobile USA, came to the FCC’s defense.

“T-Mobile strongly supports the chairman’s ongoing efforts to obtain incentive auction authority and to make more spectrum available for the mobile industry,” T-Mobile said in a statement. “Spectrum is the ‘life blood’ of the wireless industry and in a world of scarce spectrum opportunities, it is vital the FCC, as the expert agency, have the ability to design auctions to ensure robust competition exists for consumers.”

Sprint is reportedly cool to new spectrum auctions.

Meanwhile, Wireless Competition Bureau Chief Rick Kaplan, delivering the keynote address at BroadbandBreakfast.com’s Broadband Breakfast Club, said the FCC should be given deference to develop this new type of auction, under which the FCC would reclaim airwaves from television broadcasters.

Kaplan said the agency’s two major “sticking points” with the GOP bill are restrictions on the FCC’s ability to “foster competition in the market” and to decide how much spectrum should be dedicated for “unlicensed” use.

“While unlicensed spectrum doesn’t generate direct auction revenue for the Treasury, its positive impact on the economy as a whole is undeniable,” Kaplan said. “The most famous example is Wi-Fi, which utilizes spectrum that has not been licensed to any entity. Where we would be without this incredible innovation, and can we actually afford to miss the next one just like it?”

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee, included a provision in the GOP bill to prevent the FCC from imposing spectrum “caps”on auction bidders.

Walden fears that if the FCC is given carte blanche by Congress to design incentive auctions, the agency may decide to place limits on how much spectrum Verizon Wireless and AT&T, the two largest wireless carriers in the country, could buy in any given market. Under such a scenario, the FCC could even disqualify the companies from participating in bidding altogether.

“The bottom line for the FCC—and I can say this unequivocally—is that we recognize that to serve their customers in the 21st century, every wireless carrier will need more spectrum. And that means everyone,” the FCC’s Kaplan said, “from the biggest wireless providers, down to the mid-sized carriers, and all the way to the small and rural providers.”

“Thus, we have never envisioned blocking out any carrier from an incentive auction. Spectrum constraints are ubiquitous and affect everyone.”

Unlicensed white spaces could be disruptive. They enable new telecom entrants, but may threaten incumbent telcos.

Related Dailywireless articles include; Microsoft Announced Narrow Channel Whitespace, FCC Authorizes White Space Service in Wilmington, White Space Legislation Goes Dark, White Space War, Bills to Kill Unlicensed White Space?, White Space Trial Completed, White Space Trialed, Huawei to Trial White Space TD-LTE, NTIA “Finds” 1.5 GHz of Federal Spectrum, UK Delays 4G Auction Ofcom: White Spaces by 2013, UK Gets Free Public WiFi, Europe’s Digital Divide Auction,

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