FCC Chair Balks at Verizon’s Spectrum Plea

Despite pressure from mobile carrier Verizon Wireless, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will not change its rules for January’s upcoming wireless spectrum auction, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said yesterday, according to published reports.

“I don’t have any plans to try to revise our open-platform rule the way Verizon wants us to,” Martin told reporters outside a congressional hearing, according to a Reuters report.

Martin and the FCC have been under fire from Verizon and other wireless industry giants for requiring winners in the auction for one highly coveted portion of the 700MHz spectrum to comply with open-access rules.

The commission mandated in July that those winners must allow consumers access using any mobile device or software they wish. That move sought to encourage non-traditional companies, such as Google and other Internet firms, to participate in the 700MHz auction — injecting new competition into wireless services.

Meanwhile, Google accused Verizon of playing dirty in its attempt to undermine the rules on open access.

“Verizon is lobbying behind the scenes (and in apparent violation of FCC rules) to once again convince the FCC to water down key aspects of the pro-consumer rule provisions,” Richard Whitt, Google’s Washington Media and Telecom Counsel wrote in a post last week on the company’s public policy blog.

“Any attempt to change the reading of this rules language would seriously undermine the promise of consumers seeking more choices of wireless providers and services,” he wrote.

A spokesperson from the Internet search leader, which has said the open-access rules must be in place before it commits to bidding, told InternetNews.com that Whitt’s statement best reflects the company’s stance on the matter.

Verizon was not immediately available for comment.

The new developments follow months of back-and-forth between a number of companies each with vested interests in seeing the 700MHz spectrum auction go their way. Much of the heat has come from the nation’s largest carriers, several of whom who had been planning to participate in the auction.

Among the most vocal of those has been Verizon Wireless. Last month, the company reacted to the FCC’s open-access requirements by filing suit against the commission. The company charged that open-access rules violate the U.S. Constitution, exceed the FCC’s authority and are contrary to other laws.

The company also blasted the FCC’s moves in a separate filing with the commission, arguing that the wireless market is already sufficient competitive.

Verizon also said in its July filing that open-access rules depart from congressional and FCC’s officials’ efforts at deregulation, and that enforced open access would hurt protected speech by placing a platform for that speech under government control.

Other parties, meanwhile, have joined the effort to lobby for rule changes even more dramatic than those proposed by the FCC. In late September, nascent mobile carrier Frontline Wireless asked the FCC to lower minimum prices for participating in the spectrum auction, arguing such a move would be fairer to smaller wireless companies seeking to compete.

Frontline also warned against the possibility of large carriers exploiting an apparent loophole in existing auction rules. The concern is that if an auction for a portion of the spectrum doesn’t receive sufficient bids, that block would be re-auctioned without any open-access requirements.

The firm’s executives said that without competition from emerging, smaller carriers, large players like Verizon would simply sit out the early stages of the auction to dodge the open-access rules entirely.

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