FCC Teeing Up Spectrum Screen Item

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is expected by early next week, and perhaps as early as late this week, to circulate an order on its proposal to make changes to its local market spectrum aggregation screen, according to sources inside and outside the FCC. 

The screen is not a cap, but triggers a deeper dive into whether that amount of concentration in a local market is in the public interest. According to FCC sources the screen is expected to draw a distinction between high and low-band spectrum, which could affect how much low band spectrum AT&T and Verizon can bid for in the auction since they already between them have the majority of that spectrum, which has long been considered beachfront wi-fi spectrum due to its propagation characteristics.

There is expected to be a separate screen for spectrum below 1 GHz.

The FCC was considering the adjustment in association with the upcoming broadcasting incentive auction. The commission is expected to vote on a framework for the auction at its May meeting, and vote the aggregation limit item at the same time.

“The FCC’s spectrum aggregation proposal appears to provide some elegant solutions to complex problems, and strikes a reasonable balance between generating revenue and promoting competition,” said Dish SVP and general counsel Jeff Blum, in a statement. Dish has been collecting spectrum for a possible wireless network play, and is all for insuring it gets more bites at that apple.

The FCC has been under some pressure from the Hill not to put to many conditions on bidders to insure it can raise enough money to fund FirstNet, the interoperable broadband first responder network. But the FCC is confident it can have most, if not all, of that $7 billion price tag in the bank by the planned mid-2015 broadcast incentive auction date.

That is because that is the third of three auctions. The FCC has already raised $1.564 billion from the first of those auctions—the H block auction—earlier this year, and predicts that the second auctions, of AWS-3 spectrum later this year will raise many billions more.

Just last week, a group of 78 House members, including some Democrats, advised Wheeler to hold an auction that is “open to all bidders, one that should mamimize participation by both broadcasters incentied to relinquish their spectrum rights and bidders seeking to buy those rights."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.