Warner, King lead senators urging FCC to increase wireless competition in mobile spectrum auction

mark-warnerU.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Angus King (I-ME) led a group of six senators urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to enact policies in 2016 that encourage expanded wireless broadband deployment in underserved and unserved areas of the country, increase quality and service, and improve cost competition in rural and urban areas alike.

“We strongly support conducting the incentive auction in early 2016 as scheduled, and we want to ensure that the pro-competitive spectrum reserve is large enough in quantity and high-enough in quality to support robust competition throughout the country. Customers in rural areas deserve as much choice and competition as customers in urban areas,” wrote the Senators in a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. “Roughly one-fifth of all Americans live in rural areas where wireless broadband coverage – much less competition – is quite limited. Only 40% of rural Americans enjoy access to four or more mobile broadband providers as compared to 92% of non-rural Americans, and only 9% of rural Americans enjoy access to five or more mobile broadband providers. We can do better.”

The FCC has planned the 2016 broadcast television spectrum incentive auction in order to free up broadcast TV spectrum for use by mobile carriers and help meet the country’s demand for mobile broadband services. The letter sent by the senators today outlines certain steps they believe should be taken by the FCC to increase rural and urban wireless competition and improve wireless broadband service in America.

“The upcoming incentive auction can advance robust competition by ensuring that companies that currently lack sufficient low-band spectrum have an opportunity to acquire the spectrum necessary to compete,” the Senators wrote. “As currently structured, however, the FCC’s auction design has not reserved sufficient spectrum to promote competition and the auction procedures may delay implementation of the pro-competitive spectrum reserve until it is too late to do competitive providers any good. To promote wireless broadband competition, the FCC should: (1) expand the size of the spectrum reserve from three to at least four blocks; (2) ensure only the highest quality licenses are available in the reserve; and (3) implement the reserve relatively early in the auction to guard against anticompetitive abuse.”

Sen. Warner, a former technology entrepreneur and Virginia governor, has long championed broadband technology as a significant tool to help increase America’s competitiveness in the global economy. Earlier this month, Sen. Warner joined more than a dozen Senators in urging Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Co-Chairs of the Broadband Opportunity Council, to ensure that the federal government prioritizes high-speed broadband access for rural Americans.

U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chris Coons (D-DE), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) also joined with Sens. Warner and King on today’s letter.

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