House Republicans Seek Documents on FCC ‘Grain’ Waiver

House Republicans have launched an investigation into how the FCC granted a waiver to minority-run Grain Management to bid in the upcoming AWS-3 auction and have asked for a bunch of documents. An FCC spokesman said it welcomed the request for information.

Grain, which builds out wireless infrastructure, has leases with large wireless carriers that ordinarily could exclude it from getting bidding credits as a designated entity (DE). But the FCC concluded it was in the public interest for Grain to get the waiver, which was supported by, among others, the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

In a letter to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chair of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chair of the Communications Subcommittee, and Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), chair of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, said the process for granting the waiver raised questions about the process.

“We welcome the Committee’s request for information about the Commission’s recent action to promote the ability of entrepreneurs and small businesses to compete in our upcoming auctions," said an FCC spokesman. "The Commission’s action, which followed a period of public notice and comment, is consistent with Congress’s directive to design auctions that encourage participation among a wide variety of companies, including small businesses. We stand ready to act as a resource to Congress as we continue to address this important issue.”

MMTC President David Honig said he was disappointed to read about the letter to Wheeler. He pointed out that the FCC had opened a public proceeding on the waiver which drew no opposition, and added that DE's have not had much success participating in the past few FCC auctions, with minority and women-owned firms notably absent.

"Grain Management, which builds, owns and operates wireless infrastructure across the U.S., acquired its spectrum in the private secondary market without any government benefits.  It would be unreasonable to declare a firm ineligible to apply for DE benefits simply because it entered into a private marketplace transaction involving assets it acquired without government benefits," he said in a statement. "The FCC’s decision to grant a limited waiver of the AMR rule for Grain and all similarly-situated parties removes an unreasonable and unnecessary regulatory obstacle to entrepreneurship and small business investment in the wireless sector.  The FCC did what it was supposed to do, and it did it properly.  Chairman Wheeler should be commended."

They committee Republican leaders asked for the following documents by Aug. 15:

1. Copies of all draft versions of the order granting Grain Management a waiver of the AMR (attributable material relationship) rule.

2. All communications from Nov. 4, 2013, to present between Grain Management and the Commission.

3. All communications from Nov. 4, 2013, to present between or among the members or employees of the Commission relating to Grain Management, the application of the AMR rule, or the Commission’s designated entity rules, or to the grant of the waiver of the AMR rule for Grain Management. This request includes all communications regarding the use of delegated authority, options memos, and timelines for Commission action.

4. All materials maintained or produced by the Commission’s Electronic Chairman’s Lifecycle Agenda Tracking System (eCLAS) related to the Grain Management waiver.

5. All written and electronic communications from April 25, 2006, to present between Grain Management and the Commission regarding the Commission’s auction rules or procedures.

6. All documents created by the Commission or submitted to the Commission on or after April 25, 2006, relating to the AMR rule.

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.