FCC Approves New Rules for Airwaves Auction

The Federal Communications Commission announces new rules that are meant to give consumers greater choice when it comes to their cell phones and wireless devices following an airwaves auction that must take place no later than Jan. 28, 2008.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Yesterday the Federal Communications Commission announced new rules meant to shake up the wireless industry. They dictate how newly available airwaves can be used, and they are supposed to give consumers more cell phone choices.

But NPR's Laura Sydell reports that the rules left both consumer groups and big wireless companies dissatisfied.

LAURA SYDELL: A big new chunk of airwaves is going to be available in a few years. And the FCC was making rules about how the winning bidders could use their part of the spectrum.

Currently, when you sign up with Verizon Wireless, you must buy one of their approved cell phones with approved software. And if you want to move to a new carrier, say AT&T, you have to throw out your old phone and get an AT&T approved device.

Under the auction rules, you will be able to take your phone with you and download whatever you like. A victory for consumers, says FCC chair Kevin Martin.

Mr. KEVIN MARTIN (Chairman, Federal Communications Commission): It will give consumers greater freedom to use the wireless devices and applications of their choice when they purchase service from the new network owner.

SYDELL: But critics of the rules, including some of the commissioners, worry that unapproved devices could cause damage to wireless networks. And consumer groups say the rules don't go far enough. They also want the FCC to force winning bidders to rent out portions of their network to competitors at wholesale prices. The advocates say this would have allowed more companies to enter into the wireless phone and Internet business. However, it's possible that none of the rules will take effect. If the FCC doesn't get high enough bids for the spectrum, it will throw out all the new rules.

Laura Sydell, NPR News.

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