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New FCC chief vows to ensure competition


– The new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission vows to promote competition in the telecommunications industry, noting the need to ensure that small wireless carriers have a chance to compete in the highly anticipated auction of public airwaves next year.

The remarks Monday by Tom Wheeler were an indication that the nation’s top telecommunications regulator might limit how much the two dominant wireless carriers, AT&T and Verizon Wireless, can buy in the auction.

In his first policy speech since becoming chairman, Wheeler said he prefers a light-touch approach to regulation.

“I am a rabid believer in the power of the marketplace,” he said at his alma mater, Ohio State University.

But Wheeler, a former top lobbyist for the wireless and cable industries, added that the federal agency should step in when competition is being stifled.

“I have seen enough about how markets operate to know that they don’t always, by themselves, solve every problem,” he said.

The telecommunications industry is closely watching what Wheeler will do through the agency’s planned auction of a rare set of high-quality airwaves.

Smaller wireless carriers, such as T-Mobile and Sprint, are counting on the auction to enhance their networks and have asked the FCC to place limits on AT&T and Verizon, which control more than six out of 10 mobile-phone contracts.

In his speech, Wheeler mentioned a paper written in April by the Justice Department that called on the FCC to ensure that smaller carriers have access to the best airwaves available for auction.

“A key goal of our spectrum allocation efforts is ensuring that multiple carriers have access to airwaves needed to operate their networks,” he said.

Wheeler stopped short of detailing how he would structure the auction. When asked after his speech whether he would limit AT&T and Verizon’s participation, Wheeler demurred.

“Stay tuned,” he said.