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Marketplace Morning Report

Auction could change wireless game

Lisa Napoli Jul 30, 2007
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Kai Ryssdal: Something you can’t see has been keeping lobbyists in Washington busy this summer. The government’s going to auction off a big chunk of the broadcast spectrum next year.

The FCC is set announce the rules of the game tomorrow how companies can bid on this particular slice of the airwaves. Might not sound like it makes much of a difference, but Marketplace’s Lisa Napoli tells us otherwise.


Lisa Napoli: Pretty much everyone agrees that the way the FCC auctions off this spectrum will impact the future of the mobile industry in the U.S.

John Wells: That spectrum is just the beachfront property for cellular technology. It can conduct more data at higher speeds than ever dreamed 15, 20 years ago.

That’s John Wells. He represents the wireless industry, which wants the FCC to auction off the spectrum the way it has in the past. That would means the usual players would still control things, like what you can download on your phone and which handsets work with which providers.

On the other side of the spectrum is Google. They’ve been making waves spending lots of lobbying dollars in favor of opening up the auction.

Gigi Sohn of the advocacy group Public Knowledge believes that would be better for the wireless-toting public.

Gigi Sohn: We’ve gone from the AT&T monopoly to the broadband duopoly. And I think that in 2007, that’s not a whole lot of progress and it doesn’t help consumers.

Sohn says what’s likely to happen tomorrow is that the FCC will open up some of the new spectrum, not all of it. In other words, no radical changes.

Now, none of this is gonna mean much any time soon. The auction doesn’t happen till next year, and the spectrum won’t become available until the year 2009. That’s when broadcasters finish the switch to digital TV and free it up.

In Los Angeles, I’m Lisa Napoli for Marketplace.

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