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FCC Postpones March Wireless Auction Until September

Telecom: The agency wants to give bidders more time to evaluate their spectrum strategies.

February 01, 2001|From Times Wire Services

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission said Wednesday that it has delayed the March 6 auction of valuable airwaves to mobile telephone companies until Sept. 12, to give bidders more time to assess their needs for the spectrum that will eventually be vacated by broadcasters.

Verizon Wireless, the joint venture of Vodafone Group and Verizon Communications, had asked the agency to delay the sale to give bidders time to evaluate their needs after the FCC's latest auction, which ended last week.

In that auction, which raised a record $16.86 billion for the government, Verizon won more than a quarter of the licenses that should allow wireless companies to fill patches in their mobile phone coverage and add new services such as two-way messaging.

The upcoming September auction involves licenses in the 700 MHz range that are well-suited for offering the next generation of wireless services. That could enable companies to offer high-speed Web access or video image transmission over the airwaves.

The four FCC commissioners voted 3-1 for the delay, with Republican Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth dissenting.

Separately, Furchtgott-Roth said he would not seek reappointment to the panel. Furchtgott-Roth's term expired last June, but commissioners are able to stay in their positions for up to another 18 months or so.

The departure of Furchtgott-Roth, who has been an outspoken critic of many of the agency's actions, including the attaching of conditions to mergers such as the deal that created AOL Time Warner Inc., will give President Bush a second appointment to the FCC.

Verizon declined to comment on the agency's decision to delay the wireless auction. But the industry's top trade group said companies need to take "a quick breath" before leaping into the next round of bidding.

Airwaves space "is the most important resource in the world of wireless. We need it to match consumer demand and to prepare for the next generation of wireless services," said Tom Wheeler, head of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Assn.

The auction has been delayed several times by the FCC, even though Congress had required that the airwaves licenses go on the block last year.

Paxson Communications Corp. said companies have had enough time to figure out their needs and that the delay would jeopardize the technology revolution.

The television broadcasters occupying channels 60-69 do not have to give up the airwaves for digital signals until the end of 2006 or when the penetration rate for digital television reaches 85%.

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