The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set the conditions for next year's wireless spectrum to auction on Tuesday, putting open-access rules on a third of the spectrum.
[ See related: Consumer groups: FCC spectrum ruling a mixed bag ]
The FCC voted to require that the winner of 22MHz of spectrum allow any wireless devices to connect to the network, meaning wireless telephone customers could bring their handset devices from other carriers. The FCC, in so-called open-access rules, also prohibited the winning bidder on the 22MHz block of spectrum from blocking or slowing wireless and Web content from competitors.
The FCC's action represented a middle ground between some telecom carriers, which wanted no conditions, and some consumer advocacy groups and Google, which called on the commission to require that winning bidders also resell the spectrum at wholesale rates to competitors. The commission declined to adopt wholesale access rules.
Google praised the conditions but called them incomplete in a blog posting on Tuesday. "Just two months ago, the notion that the FCC would take such a big step forward to give consumers meaningful choice through this auction seemed unlikely at best," Richard Whitt, Washington telecom and media counsel for Google, wrote in the blog.
Still, consumers would have scored a more complete victory if the FCC had also adopted two other proposals from Google, he wrote. That would have paved the way for real competition, he wrote.
Google plans to examine the full text of the rules, expected to be released in a few weeks, before deciding whether it will bid in the auction, he wrote.
The FCC also addressed spectrum needs for emergency response agencies by marrying 10MHz of commercial spectrum with 12MHz of spectrum in a public-private partnership designed to create a nationwide network for police and fire departments. The FCC largely adopted a plan advanced by Frontline Wireless, a startup made up of wireless industry veterans and former FCC officials who called for a marriage of commercial bidders and public safety agencies.
Commissioner Michael Copps praised his colleagues' decision, saying public safety agencies have long needed the additional spectrum. "This represents a tremendous step forward," he said of the public safety plan.
But Copps, a Democrat, complained that the FCC didn't require wholesale access rules on part of the spectrum. The commission missed an opportunity to create a third broadband provider in competition with large telecom and cable providers, he said.
The commission's rules on 22MHz of the spectrum are a "meaningful, but not perfect" step toward open access, added Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, a fellow Democrat. "I'm concerned we missed an opportunity to provide an elusive third broadband channel into the home," he added.