Federal Communications Commission

Promoting Wireless Investment and Innovation

March 29th, 2010 by Paul deSa

Last week the FCC's International Bureau approved a license transfer application, originally filed in March 2009, involving Harbinger Capital Partners and SkyTerra Communications.

This approval sets the stage for billions of dollars of investment -- and corresponding job creation -- to construct and operate a new, national, broadband network integrating satellite and ground-based facilities. Consistent with the recommendations in the National Broadband Plan, we hope that Harbinger's investment will increase the spectrum used for broadband, enhance wireless competition, and spur innovation and entrepreneurship in the broadband ecosystem -- particularly as the proposed network will be both open and offer wholesale 4G services.

Although the specifics of their business model are obviously highly confidential due to their competitive sensitivity, we were gratified that Harbinger volunteered commitments that were both consistent with their plans and assured the FCC that the promised public interest benefits of the transaction would indeed materialize. These commitments -- building out the network to 260 million Americans by 2015 and allowing the FCC prior review of potential leases of spectrum or capacity to the two largest incumbent carriers -- do not prohibit any specific transactions. But they do provide some reassurance that the approval will ignite new broadband competition while protecting the public from any potential harms.

Harbinger’s commitments are, of course, specific to this transaction involving mobile satellite service spectrum and do not affect any of our other spectrum policies (any changes to the Commission's general spectrum policies would involve a notice and comment rulemaking process).

3 Responses to “Promoting Wireless Investment and Innovation”

  1. Guest says:

    use google not yahoo

  2. Dave Burstein says:

    These permits are worth several billion dollars. There's nothing in the above that indicates that in return for those billions the operator has committed more than they would have done anyway as part of their business plan. Nor have I found anything else of substance in the FCC filings on this deal.

    Recent FCC history has massive evidence companies make public "commitments" and simply do not deliver unless the details are clear and well-enforced. Both SBC & Verizon in 1999 "committed" by widely offering consumer service across the country, which would mean we have another major competitor in every major market. In reality, these "commitments" were not honored.

    This deal may have great public benefits or just turn out to be a sham where the actual results are not what the public deserves. The only way for me as a journalist to determine that is to have the details. Holding back the facts on this is terrible public policy.

    Skyterra is a company that was unable to actually build the promised network because of financial and other problems. Phil Falcone of Harbinger is a money guy with a background in trading junk bonds, not a philanthropist.

    So the specifics of what they will do are exactly what should be prominent in the public record, not "highly confidential."

    On this, perhaps Julius proved a competent guardian of the public interest or perhaps he gave billion dollar boons without commensurate benefits to the public.

    Facts, please.

  3. Guest says:

    In January, Chairman Genachowski gave a speech in which he stated:

    "sunlight is the best disinfectant, and that making network management practices clear and transparent to consumers can help discourage problematic behavior and minimize disputes. Transparency will not be alone sufficient to protect the open Internet, but I’m optimistic that it can do a lot of the work."

    Apparently, the Chairman's support for openness and transparency does not extend to his own agency. The "voluntary" commitments made by Harbinger to secure conditional approval for this transaction were not made public -- much less subject to review and comment -- until the transaction was approved. This transaction, and the Commission's procedures for reviewing and approving it, thus stand in stark contrast to other transactions in which such commitments were put out for comment (following vociferous demands by certain commissioners who are noticeably silent here regarding the need for openness and transparency), and subjected to rigorous review by the public.

    Chairman Genachowski should play by his own rules and live up to his stated commitment to transparency and openness in running his own agency. In this regard, the Chairman should provide the public details regarding the solicitation by the Chairman's staff of support from companies regulated by the Commission (and thus potentially fearful of retribution if they did not provide such support) for the net neutrality proposals in the Open Internet NPRM during the sunshine period for that NPRM. Regardless of where one stands on the merits of those proposals, and of the SkyTerra/Harbinger transaction, all should agree that the Commission's actions should be open and above board to ensure public confidence in their government. For democracy and representative government to work, we must know what our government officials are up to, and they should be more than willing to subject their actions to public scrutiny. Let us hope that, in future, the Chairman and the Commission will live by the same standards they would apply to others.

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