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Charter to FCC: Set aside more spectrum for smaller players in auction

Charter Communications not only has big plans for cable and broadband, it may also have big plans for wireless. The acquisitive cable firm is taking a big interest in the upcoming broadcast incentive auction. And while Charter doesn’t say specifically the company intends to be a bidder, it is joining carriers like Sprint and T-Mobile in urging the Federal Communications Commission to set aside a bigger block of spectrum for wireless bidders looking to compete with the big boys, AT&T and Verizon.

The auction, planned for early 2016, will be the last opportunity for wireless companies to bid on the highly desirable broadcast spectrum. Often called beach-front property because of its propagation characteristics, the low-frequency spectrum, which will be voluntarily relinquished by some broadcasters, has great reach and is ideal for mobile services.

“Unless the auction succeeds in providing low-frequency spectrum to competitive providers and new entrants, it will not advance the FCC’s goal of increasing competition and innovation,” wrote Catherine Bohigian, executive vice president of government affairs, in an ex parte filed Tuesday with the FCC.

Currently, the big two wireless carriers, AT&T and Verizon, hold more than 70 percent of the existing low-band frequency. Smaller carriers worry that without an edge in the auction, they will be outbid by the deep pockets of the big two.

Like T-Mobile and Sprint, Charter is pushing for the FCC to raise the amount of spectrum it sets aside in the auction from 30 MHz to 40 MHz in markets where 70 MHz is available for auction and at least half of the available spectrum in levels below 70 MHz.

“The reserve auction…. will prevent dominant providers from foreclosing smaller, competing providers from the auction—a concern raised by the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division,” Bohigian wrote.