The Federal Communications Commission attracted intense public attention Thursday for a controversial vote on a new net-neutrality proposal.
But the FCC also voted on another important issue that will shape the future of the telecommunications and broadcast TV industries. The agency enacted rules for a plan that would provide more airwaves for cell-phone carriers, which would allow for smoother Web browsing, higher-quality videos, and fewer dropped calls.
Under the plan, the FCC will buy back broadcast licenses from TV stations and auction them to the cell-phone industry. The program is voluntary, but some local TV stations around the country are expected to take the payout and go off the air.
In an attempt to boost competition in the wireless industry, the FCC will curb the ability of Verizon and AT&T to bid for spectrum — the frequencies that carry all wireless signals. The rules are a big leg up for Sprint and T-Mobile, the smaller of the four national carriers.
The commission Democrats argued that the limits are necessary to keep the industry’s two giants from dominating the auction and accumulating enough spectrum to kill off competition and raise prices. Without enough spectrum, a carrier’s network would become congested, leading customers to flee to competitors.
Before the vote, Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel expressed concern to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler about the planned limits, according to FCC aides. Last-minute negotiations forced Wheeler to loosen the caps on Verizon and AT&T.
But the commission’s two Republicans still voted against the caps, arguing that the agency shouldn’t manipulate the auction to benefit favored competitors.
Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said the FCC is putting an “enormous thumb” on the scale and providing “corporate welfare for certain multinational companies.” He noted that some of “the companies also have strong backing by foreign governments.” Sprint is owned by Japan’s SoftBank, and Germany’s Deutsche Telekom owns T-Mobile.
“Rather than embracing the free market, which has sparked constant innovation in wireless services over the last two decades, the commission places its faith in centralized economic planning,” Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai said.
But Wheeler argued that the limits are necessary to promote competition — especially for consumers in rural areas. The TV airwaves set for auction are low-frequency, meaning they can travel over greater distances and penetrate buildings.
Technically, the limits apply to any nationwide carrier with more than one-third of the low-frequency spectrum in a market. But that condition essentially only clamps down Verizon and AT&T.
An opening stage of the auction would be open to all companies, but once the bidding hits a predetermined threshold, the caps would kick in. In that second stage, up to 30 megahertz of spectrum in a market would be off-limits to the two largest carriers. The total amount of spectrum available in a market will depend on how many TV broadcasters decide to go off the air.
The auction is set to take place in the middle of next year. The government plans to use the billions of dollars in revenue from the auction to pay for a nationwide high-speed communications network for first responders and to pay down the deficit.
What We're Following See More »
President Obama became a surprise topic of contention toward the end of the Democratic debate, as Hillary Clinton reminded viewers that Sanders had challenged the progressive bona fides of President Obama in 2011 and suggested that someone might challenge him from the left. “The kind of criticism that we’ve heard from Senator Sanders about our president I expect from Republicans, I do not expect from someone running for the Democratic nomination to succeed President Obama,” she said. “Madame Secretary, that is a low blow,” replied Sanders, before getting in another dig during his closing statement: “One of us ran against Barack Obama. I was not that candidate.”
It’s all about the 1% and Wall Street versus everyone else for Bernie Sanders—even when he’s talking about race relations. Like Hillary Clinton, he needs to appeal to African-American and Hispanic voters in coming states, but he insists on doing so through his lens of class warfare. When he got a question from the moderators about the plight of black America, he noted that during the great recession, African Americans “lost half their wealth,” and “instead of tax breaks for billionaires,” a Sanders presidency would deliver jobs for kids. On the very next question, he downplayed the role of race in inequality, saying, “It’s a racial issue, but it’s also a general economic issue.”
It’s been said in just about every news story since New Hampshire: the primaries are headed to states where Hillary Clinton will do well among minority voters. Leaving nothing to chance, she underscored that point in her opening statement in the Milwaukee debate tonight, saying more needs to be done to help “African Americans who face discrimination in the job market” and immigrant families. She also made an explicit reference to “equal pay for women’s work.” Those boxes she’s checking are no coincidence: if she wins women, blacks and Hispanics, she wins the nomination.
Under pressure from a judge, the State Department will release about 550 of Hillary Clinton’s emails—“roughly 14 percent of the 3,700 remaining Clinton emails—on Saturday, in the middle of the Presidents Day holiday weekend.” All of the emails were supposed to have been released last month. Related: State subpoenaed the Clinton Foundation last year, which brings the total number of current Clinton investigations to four, says the Daily Caller.