Sen. Mark Pryor calls process 'fouled up'

WASHINGTON — A top lawmaker has called the Federal Communications Commission’s auction of wireless spectrum “a disaster,” saying the agency had “fouled up” the process in a way that has favored two telco giants.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), a member of the influential Senate Commerce Committee, also said Tuesday “many” members of Congress from both parties have expressed frustration over FCC chairman Kevin J. Martin’s overall leadership, which he characterized as secretive and agenda-driven.

During remarks delivered Tuesday morning to 500 members of the National Assn. of Broadcasters, Pryor said it was “very important that the FCC function properly, that it really has the public interest at heart.” But he doubted it does either.

“I don’t like how the FCC structured the (700 megahertz) auction,” he observed. “It’s been a disaster.”

The auction, under way and so far garnering just under $20 billion in bids, has been dominated by two telcos that want to lock up spectrum for wireless services, Pryor said.

“I’ve got nothing against AT&T or Verizon, but I don’t want a wireless world with only two big guys,” he said. “We need a competitive marketplace.

“History will show (the FCC) helped two big wireless companies to the detriment of competition. They allowed the biggest two to outbid smaller companies and control the auction.”

Regarding Martin’s tenure as FCC topper, Pryor said: “Maybe it’s always been this way, but under his leadership it seems particularly secretive, and he carries (his own) agenda into (the commission’s) agenda, sometimes regardless of expert testimony.”

The commission declined to respond to Pryor’s comments, but an FCC official pointed out that the wireless auction is already the most successful auction the agency has held in terms of money raised — nearly double the originally projected $10 billion.

“But it’s about more than just raising money,” the official said. “It’s about efficient use of the spectrum,” to which the auction will ultimately lead, the official added.

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