The FCC's plan for 700 MHz; sections in yellow have already been auctioned off and sections in gray are reserved for public safety services.  (Source:
The FCC's rules for the massive frequency auction falls short of including Google’s "four requirements"

Rules and procedures have been finalized for the FCC’s upcoming 700 MHz auction, with a date set for January 28, 2008. In a news release posted (PDF) to the FCC’s website on July 31, parts of the 700 MHz band not already auctioned off will be carved into several subsections under “upper” and “lower” bands, stretching from 698 to 806 MHz.

While the lower band is reserved entirely for commercial services, the upper band includes allocations for both commercial services and public safety agencies, and more importantly, includes special requirements mandating open access and interoperability.

Some of the commercial requirements include:

  • A 10-year license term.
  • New, tougher requirements to promote better access and improve the provision of service, especially in rural areas.
  • Within four years, licensees are required to provide coverage to at least 35-40 percent of their licensed area, with at least 70-75 percent coverage by the end of the license term, depending on the licensed area.
  • If licensees fail to meet their four-year requirements, the end-of-term requirements get pushed to eight years instead of ten.
  • If licensees fail to meet their end-of-term requirements, the FCC will automatically reclaim uncovered areas and make them available to other users.
  • For licenses in the upper band, licensees are required to provide a platform that is “more open to devices and applications,” allowing consumers their choice in applications and devices to connect with. This condition is “subject to certain reasonable network management conditions that allow the licensee to protect the network from harm.”

While the rules fall short of Google’s lofty “four requirements,” they represent a suitable middle ground for wireless operators -- who wanted no requirements -- and a positive development for US consumers, whose only wireless options currently consist of tightly controlled services.

The “open platform” requirement was introduced last month, first surfacing as a vague set of rules from FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. On July 9, Google CEO Eric Schmidt wrote Martin with a specific plan that expanded the FCC’s rules, which Google saw as weak. In the letter, Google suggested four specific requirements, which included a controversial “wholesale” clause that network service be available to resellers on a wholesale basis. While Martin expressed reservations about Google’s proposal, he remained optimistic about the FCC’s plan, going so far as to call the 700 MHz band a “third pipe” alternative to America’s current cable/DSL duopoly.

Bidding will be anonymous, with bidders’ identities withheld until the auction’s close.

Finnish cell phone manufacturer Nokia applauded the decision, calling it “an important step towards meeting consumer demand and driving further innovation,” in a press release made public on Tuesday. “We commend the FCC and Chairman Martin for taking the initiative to promote even greater competition and innovation in the U.S. wireless industry,” said Nokia CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo.

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