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Editorial: First Things First

When Tom Wheeler gets settled in at the FCC, the new commission chairman’s obvious priority will be to get an incentive auction framework out the door. Our guess is the auction deadline will slip to 2015, given that the FCC has two other auctions to conduct in 2014.

If the FCC doesn’t want to push the auction back to give broadcasters sufficient time to decide whether they want to participate, it could always cite the government shutdown and the lost time and person-power that occurred. That has already caused the agency to delay the start of the H block auction for a couple of weeks — so far.

Another priority topping the stack on Wheeler’s desk should be completing the FCC’s 2010 media ownership review before the commission has to start the 2014 review and before, preferably long before, it auctions any spectrum. The FCC did not make that easy, last week saying it will launch a study on Hispanic ownership and programming diversity. The study is a perfectly fine thing, except that it will be tough politically to take any action on media ownership until that study is completed and vetted, which will take many months. (Since this is the FCC we’re talking about, you might want to add another “many.”)

Most observers don’t see action on ownership in the near term, which is a shame because the near term is when broadcasters need help deciding to fish or cut bait, auction-wise. Knowing how competitive the FCC will allow them to be is a key deciding factor.