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FCC still eyeing caps for 2015 spectrum auction

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Thomas Wheeler smiles during a town hall meeting in Oakland, California January 9, 2014 REU
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Thomas Wheeler smiles during a town hall meeting in Oakland, California January 9, 2014 REU

By Marina Lopes

San Antonio (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is still considering caps on the amount of spectrum a single carrier will be allowed to acquire in a 2015 spectrum auction, the commission's wireless bureau chief said on Tuesday.

The caps would most likely affect the two biggest U.S. carriers, AT&T and Verizon, and would give smaller carriers a better chance to compete for a portion of frequencies under one gigahertz, valued for their strength and reach.

In April 2013, the U.S. Justice Department urged the FCC to devise an auction that would help ensure smaller carriers obtained a fair share of that spectrum.

The so-called incentive auction will give TV stations that currently own the valuable frequencies the opportunity to voluntarily give up their frequencies to the FCC. The FCC then would repackage them and auction them to wireless carriers, which are clamoring for faster speeds and better services for their devices.

Proceeds from the auction will be used to pay the broadcasters for their spectrum, as well as to help fund a new $7 billion public safety network.

"The FCC retains its authority to design these auctions in a way that promotes competition including ensuring licenses are available only to certain kinds of carriers and a cap on how much spectrum you can acquire. All those things are being considered," said Roger Sherman, acting chief of the commission's wireless bureau, at a conference in San Antonio.

Sherman added that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is "totally committed to having as many people as possible show up and have a real chance to win."

The auction is widely regarded as the most complex undertaking by the FCC to date, balancing numerous economic, engineering and political considerations, including a vocal push from smaller carriers for limits to how much spectrum their larger competitors will be allowed to acquire.

AT&T and Verizon control the biggest portion of frequencies under one gigahertz and argue that setting limits unique to just two companies would be a regulatory overreach and that caps could reduce how much the FCC raises in the auction.

(Reporting By Marina Lopes; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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