VIEWPOINT

All’s fair in love and war.

And wireless telecommunications competition is beginning to look like a battlefield. But not necessarily the “level” playing (battle)field government keeps trying to create when crafting rules for wireless services.

PCS may be a new frontier for the wireless telecom nation, but it is not to be mistaken with past “new frontiers,” like the land rushes of the 1800s during which everyone was supposed to start at the same gate at the same time and rush to stake flags on their new plots of property.

Starting gates are staggered in this PCS rush. Pioneer’s preference winners were the first to receive licenses and thus, the nod to go ahead and begin building their networks. As such, American Personal Communications has placed its first PCS phone call and is forging ahead with plans to be first to offer PCS service at 1.9 GHz in the Washington-Baltimore market, as well as the rest of the nation.

Successful bidders in the A and B block licenses designed to cover large geographic areas received their licenses late last month and-depending how organized they are and how fast they choose to proceed-also can begin building out systems.

The designated-entity auction-designed to attract entrepreneurial companies that want to offer next-generation wireless phone services-has hit a number of snags as attempts to simply set a beginning auction date have been foiled twice. The new Aug. 29 auction date thus far has not been challenged.

And bidders waiting to participate in the three remaining auctions of 10-megahertz PCS licenses have only heard the promise of an auction starting before the end of the year.

If one adheres to the early-bird-gets-the-worm philosophy, staggered starting gates do not equal a level playing (battle)field.

Meanwhile, female- and minority-owned DE bidders-which were to receive special discounts because Congress in 1993 believed women and minorities would be shut out of PCS if the playing field were too level-have now been told that in light of a recent Supreme Court ruling those preferences will not be used in their auction. Instead, the level playing field rule will offer 25 percent bidding credits limited to “small businesses” averaging $40 million or less in annual gross revenues.

Yet the Federal Communications Commission is quick to point out that removing race- and gender-based bidding credits in the entrepreneur block auction does not necessarily set a precedent for future spectrum auctions.

Is it fair if participants in one auction are not allowed to use race- and gender-based preferences but bidders in all other auctions get those preferences?

For all the efforts underway to create a level playing field for wireless telecom operators, it probably isn’t ever going to happen. The scales will always be a little tilted toward someone. There can be no level playing field for PCS operators unless someone takes the licenses away from the nation’s cellular carriers and makes them start over. And that would benefit no one.

And while some DE bidders keep pointing out how A and B block bidders will gain an unfair advantage by being first to market, the fact remains that the wireless telcom business is war.

And war is not fair.

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