FCC's T-Mobile Test Shows Movement on Spectrum Sale
Published on: 28th August 2008
WASHINGTON -(Dow Jones)- The Federal Communications Commission next week will take a step toward auctioning off a new block of channels and requiring the winning bidders to offer free Internet. FCC engineers, at the behest of T-Mobile USA, will fly out to the company's lab near Seattle to test whether wireless Internet uploads on those airwaves will interfere with T-Mobile's connections.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said earlier this month that he wants to resolve T-Mobile's interference concerns before the five-member body votes on rules for the spectrum sale. The commission was supposed to vote on the sale in June; it has also missed a self-imposed Aug. 14 deadline for approving a set of conditions on the sale.
T-Mobile USA, a unit of Deutsche Telekom, has protested Martin's idea of tying free wireless Internet access to the sale of currently unoccupied spectrum. Martin has proposed that firms buying the new channels devote at least 25% of them to free Internet access for 95% of the country.
T-Mobile operates on an adjacent swath, and its engineers say Internet traffic in neighboring airwaves routinely will cause dropped connections for T-Mobile's customers.
"This is an important development. We are convinced the FCC will learn that its proposed rules are not viable because of the impact on existing wireless providers in the neighboring spectrum bands," said Kathleen O'Brien Ham, federal regulatory vice president for T-Mobile.
FCC engineers will use some of T-Mobile's equipment to conduct the interference tests, but they will set their own testing parameters, according to people familiar with the test procedures.
Even if an engineering solution can be crafted to resolve the interference question, T-Mobile still isn't wild about the free Internet condition.
T-Mobile has expressed interest in buying the vacant spectrum if it could be sold without conditions. The company is in the process of rolling out its own wireless Internet service designed to blanket much of the country.
For now, Martin appears likely to stick to his guns on free Internet. He has argued in the past that free access should be available nationwide if a service provider is willing to offer it.
So far, one Internet startup, M2Z Networks Inc., has offered the FCC a business model based on nationwide free Internet access. If M2Z wins channels in the auction, it has pledged to build a wireless infrastructure accessible to any provider or device.
M2Z also has said it would incorporate filtering technology into its Internet service that would screen out pornography, a concept particularly attractive to Martin and Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate.
M2Z opposes further testing, arguing that the tests will needlessly delay action on the sale.
M2Z engineers will be present to observe the FCC tests, but CEO John Muleta said the data won't provide any new information.
M2Z has repeatedly told the commission that T-Mobile's handsets are configured such that they send signals outside of their allotted channels. "This is the fifth test that will essentially go to show that if you use the wrong filters and you design your network the wrong way, you're going to experience mobile-to-mobile interference," Muleta said.
T-Mobile argues that its filters aren't the problem because any neighboring Internet uploads spill over into its channels.
Muleta downplayed T-Mobile's claim that the interference would be widespread, saying the competing devices would need to be close to one another to cause a problem.
"What happens if you take your BlackBerry and you put it by your laptop? You get a buzzing sound on the speaker. That's interference," Muleta said. The situation can be solved by moving one of the devices, he added.
Critics of Martin's free Internet plan say it won't work, pointing to a failed auction of different, valuable TV airwaves earlier this year. That sale was halted when it yielded only one low bidder. Other companies said they avoided the auction because the requirements for working with firefighters and police officers were too onerous.
-By Fawn Johnson, Dow Jones Newswires; 202-862-9263; email@example.com
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