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'Open access' provision on network supported by majority of FCC panel

WASHINGTON - A majority of the Federal Communications Commission told a House subcommittee that they support an 'open access' requirement on one swath of airwaves that will be auctioned early next year.

The provision, put forth by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, would allow cell phone customers to use any device they would like on a new network encompassing about one-third of the 60 megahertz of spectrum to be auctioned.

'Consumers would be able to use the wireless device of their choice and download whatever software they want,' Martin told the panel.

The provision was met with support from Democrats on the House Subcommittee on the Telecommunications and the Internet and resistance from most of the Republicans on the panel.

A broader open access provision, however, supported by Google, received limited support from the two Democrats on the commission and was opposed by Martin.

Tuesday's hearing was Martin's first opportunity to speak publicly about the rules that will govern the so-called '700 megahertz' auction. The highly coveted spectrum is being made available thanks to the digital television transition.

The chairman began circulating the rules about two weeks ago.

The two Democrats on the commission supported Martin's limited open-access provision while Martin's fellow Republicans said they were undecided.

'I know you want me to have an answer, but at this point I really don't,' said Deborah Taylor Tate, in response to a question from Chairman Ed Markey, D-Mass., about the provision.

Commissioner Robert McDowell said that he is 'considering all the arguments.'

Republicans on the panel generally sided with the wireless industry's position that special rules on the spectrum are not needed.

'I see it as a gamble,' Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said of adding the conditions. 'Successful auctions work best without encumbrances.'