FCC's Wheeler: Spectrum Auction Could Extend Into FY 2017

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler told a Senate subcommittee April 5 that one of the reasons the FCC is seeking $11 million more in funding for the broadcast incentive auction is that there is no guarantee it won't extend into fiscal year 2017 (which starts in October [the story had initially said it began in July).

The FCC is hoping the bidding will be done by the third quarter of this year, but Wheeler pointed out that if the auction does not raise enough from wireless carriers to pay broadcasters, the spectrum must be re-auctioned again and again until that happens. He said there was no assurance things will end with one round.

He also warned that if the FCC does not get the money, the 39-month transition for TV stations to move to new spectrum after the auction won't be enough time, as the National Association of Broadcasters has suggested could be the case anyway.

Related: Videohouse to Court—We Should Be in Spectrum Auction

Wheeler said that he still thinks that 39 months will be enough, but without adequate auction funding, he said he could guarantee that would not be the case. Wheeler also pointed out that the FCC needed money to do outreach to consumers about the station repack.

He said the greatest challenge in the auction may be the residuals of how an "incredibly important broadcasting system" is maintained.

Related: FCC’s Wheeler—Auction Will Light Candle Under Mobile

FCC commissioner Ajit Pai, also testifying, put in a pitch for making the $1.75 billion TV station repack transition fund a budget, rather than a cap, which broadcasters have said should be the case.

The FCC's budget is paid for by user fees, so any additional money will not come out of the treasury.

Related: Wheeler—Netflix Conduct Is Not Open Internet Issue

Wheeler was testifying at a Senate Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee on its 2017 budget request.

"It is the Chairman's job to advance every possible argument to get as much money as he can for his agency.  Since the FCC's fiscal year 2017 begins Oct. 1, it is not surprising that the Incentive Auction still could be in progress," said Preston Padden, former executive director of the Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition, which was a group of stations interested in participating in the auction. "The Chairman's comments about the possibility of needing more Forward Auction revenue would be consistent with robust broadcaster participation and a high clearing target."

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.