Looking ahead to the 600 MHz incentive auction

Steven K Berry 2008 - Hi ResAhead of the 8th Annual LTE North America in Dallas, TX this November 18th & 19th, the event had the opportunity to interview Steven K. Berry, President & CEO of the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA).

In the interview Steven shares his thoughts on the key challenges being faced by competitive carriers throughout the U.S., the industry’s concerns looking forward to 2015, and the path towards a competitive landscape for all carriers.

LTE NA: What are the key challenges faced by North American carriers today in the roll-out and upgrade of LTE networks?

Berry: Competitive carriers must have access to critical inputs including access to spectrum, access to the latest, most-advanced handsets, and reasonable roaming agreements to continue to improve and build out their networks.  Carriers in the most rural and hard to serve areas also need certainty regarding sufficient Universal Service Fund (USF) support.

Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) works each and every day to ensure our members, nearly every wireless carrier in the U.S. outside of AT&T and Verizon, have the opportunity to grow and thrive, and to do so, they must have access to these inputs to find a pathway toward the next generation of networks.  The wireless industry is, unfortunately, plagued by continued consolidation – a significant challenge for smaller carriers trying to compete with the two largest national carriers.

We have been working closely with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission), Congress and the Administration to ensure policies are in place that will allow our members to enhance their networks and serve their customers the best way possible.  Tim Donovan, VP of Legislative Affairs for CCA, is speaking at the LTE North America event and will address some of the critical policy issues for CCA members and how decisions made in Congress and at the FCC affect not only the carriers, but consumers and the economy as well.

How will LTE networks continue to evolve, and what services can we expect to see being rolled-out by rural and nation-wide carriers?

Let’s face it, every carrier has to offer a national product and any network that doesn’t continue to evolve won’t survive.  Consumer data usage is expected to increase more than 1000% over the next five years, and carriers must find a way to meet this ever-growing demand on their networks to best serve their customers and compete.  This is just one reason why the upcoming 600 MHz incentive auction is so important.  Spectrum is the lifeblood of the wireless industry and to further deploy and expand their networks, carriers must have access to this limited, valuable resource.

The low-band spectrum in this auction is particularly attractive for carriers because of its unique propagation characteristics including the ability to penetrate walls and buildings and travel farther distances in rural areas.  CCA has been working very closely with the Commission to ensure all carriers, both large and small, have the opportunity to bid on and win spectrum in the auction.

What role does CCA have as an intermediary between the carriers and different regulatory and industry bodies such as the FCC?

CCA is the premier advocacy organization for competitive carriers throughout the United States, and our membership includes virtually every wireless carrier outside of the largest two.  We also represent a number of carriers throughout North America including Canada and the Caribbean.  We work assiduously with the FCC, Congress, the Administration and other industry stakeholders to ensure our members can compete and thrive.

The industry has seen a good deal of consolidation in recent years, and it is our job to work with policymakers to ensure competitive policies are in place for the benefit of consumers, the economy and the industry as a whole.  Everyone benefits from a more competitive marketplace, and policymakers must understand how their decisions impact carriers.

Looking ahead to 2016, what do you think will be the main topics of discussion within the North American wireless industry?

I have no doubt that the 600 MHz incentive auction will be one of, if not the, largest issue in the upcoming year.  With a scheduled start date of March 29, carriers are keenly focused on understanding the rules and how they may be able to participate.  Earlier this year, the FCC reaffirmed a spectrum reserve of 30 MHz, which was supported by CCA and is absolutely essential for competitive carriers’ participation in the incentive auction.  CCA actually advocated for more than 30 MHz of reserved spectrum – to provide smaller carriers even more incentive to participate – but we are pleased with the final outcome of the auction rules, especially given the fact that the FCC established a 20 MHz cap to prevent any one carrier from purchasing the entire reserve spectrum in smaller markets.  The largest national carriers have deep pockets and could foreclose just about any smaller competitor, and CCA was very pleased the FCC understood the importance of having multiple winners in the auction.

What will be CCA’s message at LTE North America in Dallas, this November?

CCA has and will continue to advocate for competitive policies, and the success of the incentive auction, USF programs including the Mobility Fund, and competitive carriers’ ability to access devices, roaming, and other inputs are absolutely critical to ensuring a competitive mobile ecosystem.  While our focus is policy work, CCA, with the help and direction of our carrier members, has developed business solutions to complement our advocacy goals.

The CCA Data Services Hub and the Device Hub are designed to ensure smaller carriers have access to a nationwide network and an extensive portfolio of devices from which to offer their consumers.  We are working diligently on both the policy and business sides to ensure our members have the best opportunities to overcome their current challenges and focus on what they do best – providing excellent service to their customers.

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