GOP rep. warns FCC over spectrum bids

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the House Communications and Technology subcommittee, is keeping a close watch on how the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) structures its upcoming auction of airwave licenses.

In a briefing with reporters Thursday, Walden warned that Congress could step in if lawmakers don't like the FCC's decisions. 

"It will be strong and it will be effective," Walden said of a potential congressional response. "I expect the Federal Communications Commission to follow the letter and the intent of the law."

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As part of tax cut extension legislation last year, Congress authorized the FCC to auction blocks of spectrum — the frequencies that carry wireless signals. 

Sprint, T-Mobile and small carriers are urging the FCC to limit the ability of Verizon and AT&T to participate in the auction. They warn that without auction caps, the two largest carriers could buy enough spectrum to dominate the industry.

But Walden and other Republicans are warning the FCC not to pick winners and losers in the auction and to allow as much participation as possible.

"I don't think it's fair to take perhaps some of the biggest bidders out of the process in the beginning," Walden said. "Remember, part of the requirement here is to generate maximum revenues for the taxpayers."

He also warned the FCC not to set aside too much prime spectrum for unlicensed use. Unlicensed spectrum — which powers WiFi and other technologies — can be used by any company for free.

Walden said the FCC should not "not to try to calve off valuable taxpayer owned spectrum that should be in auction and make it free and unlicensed."

A committee aide said it is too early to say what steps lawmakers would take if they oppose the FCC's decisions on the auction.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who took office last week, has not indicated how he will structure the auctions, but he has emphasized the importance of industry competition and unlicensed spectrum.

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