What’s Hot 10/23

FCC forced to play catch-up after shutdown (Politico, 10/22/2013)
The FCC is delaying high-profile actions, including a key spectrum auction, as it plays catch-up after the government shutdown. Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn had originally scheduled an auction for the so-called H-Block for Jan. 14. The auction, which will be the first major airwaves sale since 2008, is now slated to start on Jan. 22, the FCC announced today. That could push it into next year’s fiscal battles. The bill that just passed Congress funds the government through Jan. 15 and raises the debt ceiling through Feb. 7. The shutdown delays add new pressure to the FCC, which is in the midst of major policy initiatives and stuck at three commissioners with two nominees stalled in Congress. The H-Block is the first of a string of planned auctions designed to get more airwaves into the marketplace to feed data-hungry smartphones and power high-speed communications systems. The commission lost critical planning time with most of its nearly 2,000 staffers furloughed for 16 days. “These schedule changes are necessary to give potential bidders and commission staff additional time for planning and preparation,” the FCC said in a public notice issued Monday.

FCC Delays 2014 Mobile Airwave Auction After U.S. Closing (Bloomberg, 10/21/2013)
The FCC rescheduled an auction of airwaves for high-speed mobile data to Jan. 22 from Jan. 14, the agency said. The commission cited the 16-day partial closing of the U.S. government that ended last week in its e-mailed notice Monday about the sale of airwaves known as the H Block. Sprint Corp. had pressed the agency for an auction in January, and the commission accepted that idea over a proposal to wait so the auction coincides with other sales later in 2014. The H Block comprises 10 megahertz of spectrum, a fraction of President Barack Obama’s target of 500 megahertz for commercial mobile data. Congress has told the FCC to auction an additional 55 megahertz next year, for a total of 65 megahertz. The FCC estimated that the largest auction planned, of airwaves relinquished by TV stations, would free up 120 megahertz.

AT&T Expresses Support for Verizon, T-Mobile 600 MHz Band Plan Approach (TR Daily, 10/21/2013)
AT&T, Inc., said today it is supportive of a 35×2 megahertz band plan approach for the 600 MHz band proposed by T-Mobile US, Inc., and Verizon Communications, Inc., as long as the FCC frees up at least 84 MHz of spectrum “in the largest non-border markets across the country.” In an ex parte filing in GN docket 12-268, AT&T said that it “previously offered an exemplar ‘Down from 51’ band plan that detailed a 25 x 2 MHz approach. As AT&T explained, this approach has specific technical advantages: a band plan arranged in this manner permits implementation with a single duplexer, allows for the reuse of the existing antenna used for the lower 700 MHz band, and avoids specific third order harmonic concerns that may limit certain carrier aggregation solutions. Thus, as AT&T explained, the 25 x 2 MHz approach presented fewer technical and design challenges than would a 30 x 2 MHz or a 35 x 2 MHz approach. Nonetheless, AT&T believes that all three of these approaches are technically feasible, and that the additional technical challenges posed by a 35 x2 MHz plan can be satisfactorily met. Therefore, maximizing the amount of paired spectrum by relying on the 35 x 2 MHz approach outweighs the countervailing engineering concerns where 84 MHz of spectrum or more is widely available.”

Comptel Criticizes Kovacs Paper On Network Investment (TR Daily, 10/21/2013)
Comptel today criticized the data analysis in a recent paperwritten by Anna-Maria Kovacs for the Internet Innovation Alliance that called for regulatory policies that don’t divert investment from IP (Internet protocol)-based broadband facilities to circuit-switched networks. “Discussions on the best policies to support a successful transition of the industry to IP, one where competition flourishes and consumers are protected, should be based on hard data that is accurately portrayed, analyzed and supported. Unfortunately, much of the analysis underlying the core claims of the IIA white paper fail to meet such a standard,” Comptel said in a statement. Specifically, Comptel said that “[t]he claim that ILECs [incumbent local exchange carriers] are continuing to make significant investment in legacy (time-division multiplexing, or TDM) networks is not supported by the underlying data,” a 2011 paper and a 2008 marketing report that “reached fundamentally the opposite conclusion of what the IIA paper asserts—that significant investment in obsolete facilities is occurring. The 2008 marketing report noted that (even more than five years ago) ‘broadband remains the primary capex driver;’ that ‘there has been a pronounced shift in capex towards new, broadband platforms, and away from narrowband systems;’ and that RBOC budgets have ‘a focus on key projects, such as broadband (FTTx, xDSL), Internet data and wireless backhaul.’ Additionally, the 2011 analysis stated that ‘much of the capex is for general-purpose digital networks that can carry voice, data and video.’” Comptel also said that “the IIA paper completely ignores that the physical layer, which is comprised of costly network components—such as conduits and poles, as well as fiber and copper transmission links, are used (and shared) by both IP and TDM technologies. Consequently, it is not unusual for capex to be expended on facilities that are capable of supporting IP or TDM services.”

AT&T leasing/selling wireless towers for $4.85 million (San Antonio Business Journal Morning Edition, 10/21/13)
Dallas-based AT&T Inc. has agreed to lease or sell 9,700 wireless towers to Crown Castle International Corp. for $4.85 million, the Dallas Business Journal reports. Bloomberg says AT&T (NYSE: T) is looking to use the money to pay for expansion, possibly in Europe. Under the deal, Houston-based Crown Castle (NYSE: CCI) will buy 600 of AT&T’s towers and will get exclusive rights to lease and operate about 9,100 other towers for an average of 28 years. “This deal will let us monetize our towers while giving us the ability to add capacity as we need it,” says Bill Hogg, senior vice president — network planning and engineering, AT&T Services Inc. “And we’ll get additional financial flexibility to continue to invest in our business, maintain a strong balance sheet and return value to our shareholders.”

Now that Congress has reopened the federal government, lawmakers can get back to what they had been doing all along on tech and telecom policy — not a whole lot. The endless string of battles over the budget has sapped time and energy from the corners of Capitol Hill that grind away quietly at complex tech policy issues.