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US senator accuses FCC of rigging 700MHz auction

Kevin Martin's ménage à trois

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Wireless watchers are still waiting for the final results of the The Great American Wireless Auction, but that hasn't stopped at least one US Senator from dubbing the FCC's $20bn bid-off "a disaster".

Yesterday, as bids continued to trickle in for the so-called 700-MHz band - a juicy portion of the US airwaves - Senator Mark Pryor told a room full of radio and TV people that Federal Communications Commission chair Kevin Martin has really fouled things up. So says Broadcasting & Cable.

You see, Pryor (a Democrat from Arkansas) doesn't like Martin (a Republican from North Carolina). "Maybe it’s always been this way," Pryor told the National Association of Broadcasters' State Leadership Conference. "But under [Martin’s] leadership, [the FCC] seems particularly secretive, and he carries an agenda into their agenda."

We don't know what that means either. But then he said this: "History will show that the way the FCC structured the auction basically helped the two big wireless companies to the detriment of competition in this country."

Naturally, he means Verizon and AT&T. He's sure that the FCC allowed these telco behemoths to outbid smaller companies and "basically just control the auction after that."

How's does he know this? We aren't quite sure. The FCC won't release the names of winning bidders until after the auction is over, and Pryor's press officer didn't return our phone calls.

That said, we feel the need to point out that where auctions are concerned, big companies often outbid smaller companies. After all, they have more money.

It's also worth noting that once you win a chunk of wireless spectrum, it takes even more money to actually build a network. When it comes to the most coveted portion of the 700-MHz band - the officially "open access" C Block - it only makes sense that a large company would win the day.

The real question is whether the world's largest search engine made a serious play for the C-Block. Google has flirted with the block for months, but many believe this was merely an effort to force that open access requirement into place. "Google doesn't want the C Block," the voices say. "It wants to make sure the C Block provides access to any device and any application - Internet-style."

Clearly, two wealthy companies put down large bids for the C Block, and recently, we speculated that those companies were Google and Verizon. But one well-informed source tells us that we'll "be surprised" when the bidders are finally revealed. .

Bidding on the C Block is basically finished. But we're still waiting on other parts of the spectrum. In all, the FCC has already raked in close to $20bn. ®

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