Wireless Executives Say Shutdown Will Delay FCC's Spectrum Auctions

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Oct. 9 --U.S. wireless executives said that the federal government's budget impasse will delay business before the Federal Communications Commission.

The executives commented during an Oct. 9 panel discussion hosted by the Telecommunications Industry Association.

Tom Sugrue, T-Mobile USA, Inc. senior vice president of government affairs, said he is concerned that a prolonged federal shutdown could complicate the FCC's upcoming spectrum auctions. “One week, sure we can all make that up,” he said. “If we're talking a third, there could be a real negative impact on the timing of [the auctions]. There are some statutory deadlines that could be put at risk.”

The FCC is planning to hold three spectrum auctions in the next 15 to 18 months, Sugrue said. The commission plans to auction 10 MHz of H Block spectrum on Jan. 14; the FCC is working with federal agencies to reallocate federal spectrum in the 1755-1780 MHz band by September 2014, in order to pair it for auction with the 2155-2180 MHz band by February 2015 and the commission is still drafting rules for its planned 2014 broadcast incentive auction.

FCC Website Offline

Jim Cicconi, AT&T Inc.'s senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs, said he was frustrated that the FCC took its website offline because of the federal budget impasse. “I understand that people aren't there to actually do the work. That doesn't mean you close the website down to deprive people of the databases that are available or, frankly, to file something online. And yet other agencies have kept their websites open,” Cicconi said. “It engenders some disrespect for the process when you have these kinds of anomalies in implementation.”

“Obviously we have important things to do in this area,” Cicconi said. “The entire government has major business before it and I think we are all sitting here hoping this gets settled,“ he said.

Cicconi echoed a recent statement

from AT&T's Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson that urged congressional lawmakers to pass legislation to raise the debt ceiling. Stephenson said in an Oct. 4 news release that it is “unthinkable that the United States could default on its financial commitments, and it would be the height of irresponsibility for any public official to consider such a course.”

“I think it is one thing to deal with the shutdown and the failure to pass a continuing resolution,” Cicconi said. “It's quite another thing to put at risk the full faith and credit of the United States. And I think [Stephenson] is spot on about that and I think he is reflecting a pretty unanimous view within the business and financial communities that it is harmful to the country to even discuss that eventuality.”

Modernize Wireline Regulations

The wireless executives also urged the FCC to modernize its legacy regulations as telecommunications providers migrate away from copper communications networks and toward Internet protocol (IP) networks. Policymakers continue to debate whether federal and state regulators should permit telecommunications companies to discontinue traditional landline telephone services in favor of IP communications technologies.

“The concern we all share is that we are reaching a point where the FCC and the regulations and the statutes are going to end up stifling the pace of change if we don't modernize,” Cicconi said. “It requires not just a modernization of the regulations to keep up but frankly a modernization of the mindset at the agency to accept and recognize the changes that have occurred.”

“We need these decisions to be based much more on market and business plans and the technology that is available not be driven artificially by the fact that one has got legacy regulations that were designed in 1934 and the other areas don't,” Cicconi.

Craig Silliman, Verizon Communications Inc.'s senior vice president of public policy, said the FCC's outdated regulatory regime has had a chilling effect on innovation and must be changed. “The problem isn't how do you get government to update technology specific regulations and policies to meet the speed that technology advances,” Silliman said. “The question has to be how do you get the government away from building regulation policy on technology specific pillars so industry can innovate and invest at the speed of technology.”

Sugrue said the FCC has shown “a real appreciation of the importance of bringing spectrum into the market for mobile broadband services,” during the panel discussion.

“I think now with the team there, and when Tom Wheeler gets in, there we'll see a very crisp execution on that,” he said.

The final Senate confirmation of Wheeler to be FCC chairman is pending and unlikely to receive a vote until Congress resolves its funding dispute.

By Bryce Baschuk

To contact the reporter on this story: Bryce Baschuk in Washington at bbaschuk@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

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