FCC's Wheeler: Spectrum Auction Was Congress' Directive

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler says that the spectrum auction will clear the second most spectrum of any FCC auction, but that it was not the FCC's role but the marketplace's to determine that price or how much spectrum should be given up.

He was asked, in an interview for C-SPAN's Communicators, about the supposed demand for wireless beachfront spectrum given the demand that the auction revealed—broadcasters have been questioning that demand after the total broadcasters were willing to give up was reduced repeatedly after wireless companies declined to bid for the higher spectrum targets.

Wheeler said it was Congress (in auction legislation) "that told us to create an auction that gave broadcasters an opportunity to sell their spectrum to us, and us to re-band it and turn around and sell it to wireless carriers."

But it was Congress implementing an element of the National Broadband Plan offered up by the FCC and Wheeler's predecessor, Julius Genachowski.

Wheeler said the FCC's job was to create the marketplace, "not so say 'this is how much spectrum has to clear, this is how much it has to generate.'"

He said marketplaces "are frequently unpredictable."

But he echoed his public statement after the forward auction bidders this week did jump back in and allow the auction to close after this stage. "I think we've been highly successful."

He said if the auction closes at its current total ($18.2 billion) when he conducted the interview, it will be "the second-largest amount of spectrum [70 MHz] that has ever been made available in the history of this agency."

Some have suggested that the auction could have been even more successful if it had not been scheduled so close to the AWS-3 wireless spectrum auction or its decision to free up unlicensed high-band spectrum, which may be usable for next gen wireless and companies don't have to pay for.

Wheeler was asked what factors he thought affected the appetite for the spectrum, but he averred, saying his job was not to forecast markets but to create markets. "Why some carriers bid and maybe some didn't, those are decisions that they make that a regulator shouldn't."

The full interview will air Saturday, Jan. 21, at 6:30 p.m. ET and Monday, Jan. 23, on C-SPAN2 at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. ET.

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.