H Block Update: Reconsideration of Service Rules Sought

Another caltrop has been dropped in the path of the H Block auctions that the Commission is trying to push forward full speed ahead. A petition has been filed seeking reconsideration of the rules, adopted last June, governing the licensing of H Block spectrum.

The petition, filed by the Rural Wireless Association (RWA), challenges the FCC’s decision to issue H Block licenses on an Economic Area (EA) basis, rather than a Cellular Market Area (CMA) basis. It also faults the Commission for adopting population-based construction requirements. 

In RWA’s view, the H Block rules as adopted will present a barrier to the participation of small and rural carriers in the H Block auction and will result in the failure of carriers to provide H Block service to rural consumers. According to RWA (which used to be known as Rural Telecommunications Group, Inc.), Congress indicated that the FCC should be far more solicitous of rural interests than the H Block rules appear to be.

As we have previously indicated, the H Block rules and related auction procedures do seem to have been crafted with a particular agenda in mind, an agenda not necessarily consistent with rural interests. (Full disclosure: FHH represents a party that has sought reconsideration of the auction procedures.) Whether all this runs afoul of Congress’s intent remains to be seen. But the pendency of reconsideration petitions could cast enough of a pall of uncertainty over the upcoming auction to discourage potential bidders. And that, in turn, could reduce the government’s take out of the auctions. 

The Commission may seek to resolve the petitions sooner rather than later, to dispel any uncertainty as quickly as possible. But the prospect of appeals will still linger.

The filing of the RWA petition has now been noted in the Federal Register, which sets the dates for oppositions and replies. Anyone wishing to oppose the RWA petition has until November 12, 2013 to do so; replies may be filed by November 22.

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