Skip to main content

FCC's Pai Supports Wheeler Decision To Move Auction Timetable

Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai is standing with his Democratic chairman on the issue of moving the broadcast incentive auction date into 2015, but that his biggest worry is that the FCC will discourage participation.

That is according to a copy of Pai's testimony for the Dec. 12 House Communications Subcommittee FCC oversight hearing.

"I am disappointed that there was not a clear path to holding a successful incentive auction by the end of 2014," he plans to tell the legislators. "I accordingly support Chairman Wheeler’s announcement setting the middle of 2015 as our new target and applaud him for issuing a schedule to meet that goal."

And echoing both a National Association of Broadcasters talking point and a mantra that has begun to migrate to the FCC as well, Pai said that it was "more important to get the auction done right than to get it done right now."

Pai plans to tell the subcommittee that there are five key auction principles: 1. Keep to the statute. "It is our job to implement this legislation, not to rewrite it to conform to our policy preferences," he says. 2. The band plan and repacking must "respect the laws of physics." 3. Be fair to both broadcasters and wireless companies since the FCC will need both for a successful auction. 4. Keep it simple, or as simple as possible given how inherently complicated it is. 5. Get 'er done. "Prolonged uncertainty is not good for broadcasters or wireless carriers.

But while prolonged uncertainty is not to Pai's liking, taking the time to get it right and avoid a moment is. "The Chairman’s measured approach is particularly appropriate given that we only have one shot. If, for example, any part of our software were to fail during the incentive auction—like another government website that shall not be named—the Commission, by law, wouldn’t get a second bite at the apple. That is why we must take the time and the steps necessary to subject our software to rigorous testing."

As to the FCC not deterring participation, Pai says that means not "scoring" stations in the reverse auction, which means letting the market, not administrative fiat, determine prices paid to broadcasters for their spectrum. "Any attempt to restrict payments to broadcasters will prove to be penny-wise and pound-foolish."

In the forward auction, that means "not limit[ing] carriers’ ability to participate, such as by setting a spectrum cap or narrowing the spectrum screen despite the significant competition that exists in the wireless market."

Talking about the FCC's first of three planned spectrum auctions—the H block auction in January—Pai said he thought that if the auction raised a bit north of $1.5 billion it could be classified as an "important success" and show the commission has "both the will and the ability to hold a successful auction."

As to the second, AWS-3, auction mandated by incentive auction legislation—both those auctions, by statute, have to be done by February 2015—Pai said he was pleased that broadcasters and the Department of Defense had agreed on sharing the BAS spectrum broadcasters use for electronic newsgathering, so DOD can move off some of the to-be-auctioned AWS-3 spectrum.