FCC Said to Weigh Limits for Wireless Airwaves Auction

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is proposing to limit the amount of airwaves any single company can purchase at the largest U.S. spectrum auction since 2008, a person briefed on the plan said.

Top U.S. wireless carriers AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. have said curbs will reduce revenue the government reaps from next year’s planned sale, and unfairly favor smaller competitors Sprint Corp. and T-Mobile US Inc.

The agency is to sell airwaves given up by television stations so the frequencies can be used by the growing number of smartphones and other wireless devices connecting to the Internet. Finding more spectrum to meet soaring mobile-Internet demand is a goal of President Barack Obama’s administration.

The FCC’s auction is to be the largest since a 2008 sale drew bids totaling more than $19 billion -- with more than 80 percent coming from AT&T and Verizon. The airwaves planned for next year’s auction travel far and penetrate buildings, making them particularly suitable for smartphones.

FCC officials have described Wheeler’s plans in non-public briefings in recent days, said the person who asked not to be identified because the proposal hasn’t been announced. Wheeler is to ask fellow commissioners to approve his auction plan as soon as the agency’s monthly meeting in May.

“All who want to participate in the auction will be able to bid,” Wheeler said in an e-mailed statement today. “In order to assure coverage and competition in rural America it may be necessary to assure no one can monopolize the bidding.”

Sprint and T-Mobile have said limits that keep the two largest carriers from dominating the auction could encourage participation by more companies and increase bidding.

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