The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced that the auction of 700 MHz wireless spectrum, which has been described as "beachfront property" because it is ideal for long-range wireless broadband and telephone services, will begin January 16, 2008. The FCC will make available a total of 62 MHz of commercial spectrum in an auction that is estimated to raise more than $10 billion and draw intense competition from incumbent telephone and cable companies and potential new entrants seeking to provide a "third pipe" of broadband internet service into the home. The spectrum is being freed up by television broadcasters transitioning to digital television transmissions by February 2009.
The FCC adopted "open access" rules for a 22 MHz block of spectrum that will require the winning bidder to allow customers to use any handset with the wireless network or download any wireless services they choose, provided it will not harm the network. The winning bidder for the 22 MHz block may not block, degrade or interfere with the ability of customers to access services offered by competitors. The FCC also set aside 10 MHz of spectrum to be licensed to a commercial entity on a nationwide basis for the purpose of creating a nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network. In exchange for providing the commercial licensee access to the public safety spectrum on a secondary preemptible basis, public safety agencies such as police and fire departments will have priority access to both the public safety and commercial spectrum during emergencies. Public safety entities will have access to an additional 12 MHz of spectrum for narrowband systems for voice and low-speed data communications. The remaining 30 MHz of spectrum will be auctioned in a variety of geographic sizes and spectrum blocks, primarily for rural and regional wireless carriers. For all of the commercial spectrum, carriers will be required to meet strict build-out requirements and could lose their licenses for any "unserved" areas.