Array

The FCC’s to-do-list in January looks very spectrum-heavy. First and foremost, under chairman Tom Wheeler’s new broadcast incentive auction timeline (the auction was moved from year-end 2014 to mid-2015) is a proposed Report and Order that will come in early January, providing specific policy recommendations. A vote will come in the spring, followed by a Public Notice in the second half outlining the specific auction rules.

Then there’s the H Block spectrum auction on Jan. 22. It’s the first of three auctions the agency plans to conduct to free up more spectrum for mobile broadband. DISH was among the list of bidders. The FCC’s recent approval of the company’s petition to waive some technical rules on its use of spectrum cleared the way for Charlie Ergen & Co to bid on the H Block. DISH had made its H Block bid offer contingent on the approval. No other national players applied to participate so DISH might come home with a big chunk of the airwaves. The H Block, a 10 MHz block of paired spectrum, is part of 65 MHz of spectrum Congress mandated the FCC to auction by February 2015. The FCC expects at least $1.56 billion from the auction. In an earlier Public Notice, the agency said “we believe this amount will appropriately recover for the public a portion of the value of the spectrum, especially in light of the Spectrum Act’s requirement to deposit proceeds from this auction into the Public Safety Trust Fund to be used for a nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network…”

Before the H Block auction is a workshop on the 3.5 GHz spectrum on Jan. 14, addressing things like technical requirements for use of the band. The agency is looking to free up 100 MHz in the band for shared, commercial uses, including small cell networks. Cable wants to make sure the FCC would make new wireless operations in the 3.5 GHz band more attractive to cable operator investment, according to a filing by NCTA earlier this year. Specifically, it wants the Commission to allow outdoor use of the band for cable WiFi services. “An indoor-only restriction would render the 3.5 GHz band far less valuable as a spectrum resource supporting commercial broadband, and would attractive substantially less investment,” NCTA said. And while the group supports opening the band to new users, it wants the FCC to ensure any use of the band wouldn’t interfere with adjacent bands used by NCTA members that provide satellite pay-TV services.

Spectrum aside, an important ruling that could drop anytime now is the US Court of Appeals’ decision on net neutrality. Stifel Nicolaus analysts said in a research note that based on oral arguments heard in September, at least two of the three judges reviewing the case are likely to scale back the FCC’s Open Internet rules in a way that would allow cable ISPs (and telcos) to charge OTT players like Netflix for improved connections to broadband customers.

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