Nominee for FCC chair pledges to stick to spectrum auction schedule

By Andrew Lapin

During his June 18 Senate confirmation hearing for the position of Federal Communications Commission chairman, presidential nominee Tom Wheeler said it is “absolutely crucial” for the federal government to maintain its intended schedule for spectrum incentive auctions.

“This committee and this Congress have directed the FCC to do that in an expedited manner,” Wheeler said. “[The previous] Chairman [Julius] Genachowski has set a schedule for that, and if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed it is my intention to move expeditiously to make spectrum available by auction in multiple states.”

Wheeler used the analogy of a Rubik’s Cube to explain his approach to the auctions. “Over on this side of the cube you’ve got to provide an incentive for broadcasters to want to auction their spectrum. On this [other] side of the cube you have got to provide a product that is structured in such a way that incentivizes the wireless carriers or whoever the bidder may be,” he said. “In the middle of this, on an almost real-time basis, you have to have a band plan that is constantly changing.”

The nominee repeatedly stressed the importance of incentives in convincing broadcasters and bidders to participate in spectrum reallocation, but he didn’t specify what they would be or discuss how he would manage the auction proceedings. Neither his testimony nor Q&A with lawmakers referred directly to public broadcasters.

Wheeler, a former cellular communications lobbyist, noted during the hearing that he had argued on behalf of the wireless industry during the federal government’s previous spectrum auction in 1997. He said his experience gave him a unique understanding of the auction that lies ahead.

“I understand the challenges involved. I understand the good faith in both sides and I understand how incentives have to be created and concerns have to be addressed,” he said. “It’s not my first rodeo.”

The FCC is scheduled to hold its spectrum auction in 2014 and is encouraging public broadcasters to participate, but has announced few details about how the auction will proceed.

Sen. John Rockefeller III (D-W.Va.), chair of the Senate Commerce Committee that oversaw Wheeler’s hearing, said he was “certain” Wheeler would be confirmed.

Questions, comments, tips? lapin@current.org
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