The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will be re-entering the snakepit and investigating just how much spectrum -- the radio frequencies used to transmit signals in wireless devices -- one company should be able to control.
According to FCC officials, the investigation will lead to a proposal setting new rules for the sale of spectrum rights by one company to another. Often, companies will rent airwave rights to each other; such as Verizon's recent acquisition of spectrum from a consortium of cable firms, SpectrumCo.
A "spectrum screen" is currently used to evaluate whether mergers or spectrum purchases should be approved. Currently, each case is reviewed individually, but the investigation will ask whether rules should be applied universally -- instead of the application of general guidelines for each separate case.
Companies and the general public are expected to provide input.
An FCC official explained to The Hill that blanket rules could provide "clarity and predictability" to the commission's review process. However, at its current stage, the FCC is only asking for input -- and potentially the system will go unchanged.
The investigation is likely to have far-reaching implications for the wireless industry. One issue in particular is whether lower-frequency spectrum should be treated in the same way as higher frequency bands -- the former generally put to use for cpmsumer wireless devices, whereas high-frequency bands are used for radio, governmental, military and diplomatic purposes.
AT&T, one of the largest carriers, welcomed the review after blasting the commission earlier this year for its handing of the firm's bid to buy T-Mobile. A spokesperson said:
"AT&T has long advocated that the FCC should conduct its review of the spectrum screen in an industry-wide rulemaking where all can participate and a full factual record can be developed. We appreciate this important step, which should eliminate protracted battles about these issues in individual license transfer proceedings."
A vote will take place in September. If approved by all members of the FCC, then industry players will be given their chance to comment before the change begin to take place -- which could take months.
The largest industry figures, including Verizon and AT&T could end up being stung if deals are restricted in the name of maintaining competition. However, smaller carriers and consumer groups have levied criticism at the commission in the past, saying that some of the large firms earn too much of the band below 1Ghz, which is used for wireless communication.