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After LightSquared flop, FCC chief talks policy at MWC

Tue, 02/28/2012 - 3:11pm
Maisie Ramsay, Wireless Week

The head of the FCC touted the agency's pro-wireless policies during a speech today at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona but made no mention of its decision to block AT&T's merger with T-Mobile USA or the failure of LightSquared's LTE plans.

Chairman Julius Genachowski's speech was delivered two weeks after the agency moved to block LightSquared from moving forward with its mobile broadband plans because of problems with GPS interference. He did not make specific references to the decision but said that "humility is a value to be honored in policymaking," according to a transcript of his remarks.

The FCC's practices were the subject of Congressional scrutiny, even before it decided against approving AT&T's $39 billion buyout of T-Mobile, and its handling of LightSquared has prompted one Republican senator to hold up the nominations of two new FCC commissioners until the agency agrees to answer his questions about the issue.

The FCC's 2010 net neutrality proposals prompted a backlash from some lawmakers in both the House and Senate, and the agency recently dodged legislation that would have severely limited its ability to govern spectrum auctions.

But the United States' contentious political landscape was largely excluded from Genachowski's speech, which focused on FCC policies that encouraged operators to invest in their networks such as regulations speeding local decisions on new towers and the mandated granting of colocation permits.

"Our mission is to unleash the potential of communications technology," he said. "We believe in the power of dynamic free markets to drive these benefits and that government has an important but limited role to play in enabling innovation and investment in communications technologies and services, promoting competition, and empowering consumers."

Genachowski said the FCC kept operators' bottom lines in mind when crafting new regulations, "and that is why we haven't prohibited usage-based pricing."

Genachowski also touched on the wireless industry's lifeblood: spectrum. He touted the agency's opening of television white space spectrum and lauded lawmakers for granting it authority to conduct voluntary auctions of broadcast spectrum through a bill signed into law by President Barack Obama last week.

Genachowski's praise was tempered by criticism over some provisions in the bill.

"It contains provisions that could reduce the amount of spectrum we would otherwise recover for mobile broadband and that could limit the potential benefits of incentive auctions to the mobile industry and mobile consumers," he said.

The FCC has been both lauded and derided by players in the U.S. wireless industry. Genachowski's speech indicates he believes the agency is on the right track, even in the wake of what many would characterize as a misstep on LightSquared.

"Inefficiently used spectrum often isn't the fault of existing licensees, but instead traces back to government allocation decisions that predated auctions of spectrum for flexible use," Genachowski said. The statement was made in the context of remarks about sharing government-owned spectrum with commercial users.

The comment could be a coincidence, but LightSquared's plans were thwarted because GPS receivers – especially those used by the government – looked into its spectrum, not because its signal was bleeding into adjacent bands.

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