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FCC Postpones Low Frequency Spectrum Auction Until 2016

October 24, 2014 - Written By David Steele

A few hours ago, I wrote that T-Mobile USA had asked the FCC to amend the low frequency auction and now we learn that the auction, originally planned for early next year, has been postponed until 2016 because of the court case between the FCC and the broadcasters. Earlier in the week the court issued a schedule that showed the final briefs were not due until January 2015. This means that the verdict will likely not be reached until the middle of the year. The FCC state that given the “complexity of designing and implementing the auction, and the need for all auction participants to have certainty well in advance of the auction, we now anticipate accepting applications for the auction in the fall of 2015 and starting the auction in early 2016.” The FCC also state that there are “undeniable impediments” to their efforts to push a successful auction and the reason for this is because TV broadcasters are concerned that pushing stations closer together will result in a drop in viewership. The broadcasters’ main argument against the FCC is how TV station coverage areas are calculated, which uses a calculation known OET-69, a means of repacking and reorganizing television stations.

Given T-Mobile’s desire to persuade the FCC to change the low frequency spectrum auction, this might be good news. T-Mobile are lobbying the FCC to increase the reservation amount for the smaller carriers’ to purchase spectrum. Verizon Wireless and AT&T currently control two thirds of the low spectrum range. T-Mobile are keen not to be squeezed out of the low frequency spectrum. The second part of T-Mobile’s request is to remove the minimum costs involved in the auctions because it believes setting these will create a barrier to entry. The delay means that T-Mobile can spend more time preparing a case for the FCC.

However, in the short term it is us, the customers, who will be suffering. The FCC is trying to liberate low frequency spectrum from the TV broadcasters. The low frequency spectrum provides the carriers with improved coverage: low frequency signal travels further and through buildings. By delaying the auction by a year, this will likely also delay the deployment of low frequency networks and this, in turn, means that we’ll have to suffer more dropped calls and interrupted data sessions.