FCC Auction Rules to Impact Startups


Startups should keep an eye on the launch of the incentive auction system which the Federal Communications Commission will address in its open hearing Friday. The FCC, the independent government agency charged with oversight of communications technologies, is reconvening after the usual summer lull in Washington. The agency is tackling issues startups should monitor, including rules for new spectrum auctions.

Startups are generally less concerned as to how spectrum is made available than with how quickly it is made available. The importance of the airwaves to entrepreneurs is clear; wireless communication has propelled the growth of a new segment of the economy with the introduction of smartphones and tablets. The sooner more spectrum can be made available, the sooner more new companies can develop products and services for customers.

The FCC auctions airwaves for exclusive use by companies like AT&T and Verizon. It also opens them to “unlicensed” use which allows innovators to create technologies on particular frequency sets. Incentive auctions function by relocating television broadcasters to shared or unused channels to open new swaths of LTE-capable spectrum. This move, however, may squeeze frequencies approved for unlicensed technologies between television channels that are called white spaces.

Rulemakings introduced by the FCC starting Friday will impact three areas critical to innovation:

  • Sharing spectrum with government users. The FCC is moving forward with a plan to allow commercial and government entities to share the same airwaves, increasing the amount of available spectrum for innovative applications.
  • Incentive auction rules. A rulemaking has been proposed that will address the incentive auction system. Auctions are complex and rule-driven. Any tweaks may protect or endanger unlicensed spectrum proposed for open use by innovators and startups.
  • Satellite spectrum regulation. The commission is considering a rulemaking to reduce the regulatory burden on satellite services with the goal of encouraging the development of new consumer satellite communications technologies.

The FCC is aware of startups concerns. We asked FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski during a September 11 Twitter town hall about the

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commission’s plans to boost startups. Genachowski pointed to the incentive auction plan to create a nationwide band of unlicensed spectrum for experimentation as a critical step in innovation and entrepreneurship in the wireless ecosystem.

Engine will continue to follow the FCC moves as it builds toward an entirely new auction system. We encourage the commission continues to recognize the importance of startups and to listen to entrepreneurs and makers of disruptive technologies as they consider new rules.

Image via Wikimedia Commons