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McDowell: Filling FCC Seats Could Take a While

Former FCC commissioner Robert McDowell warned Friday that the replacements for FCC chairman Julius Genachowski and himself might not be installed until late fall, if then.

McDowell was being interviewed by former FCC commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth at a Hudson Institute event Friday on "The FCC: Past and Future." McDowell is now a senior fellow at the Institute.

The FCC is currently at three members -- the minimum for a quorum -- headed by acting chairwoman Mignon Clyburn.

McDowell was asked whether he thought the acting chair would push forward with major moves on the broadcast incentive auctions. He suggested that she may have to if the commission wants to keep the process moving.

He said he was not looking for a speedy confirmation and pointed to the "trifecta of scandals" the administration was currently dealing with that could lead to holds on FCC and other nominees until certain documents were presented. The nominations of current commissioners Ajit Pai and Jessica Rosenworcel were both held up for months by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa).

McDowell also talked about another possible sticking point for the auctions -- possible court challenges. He was not weighing in on the probability, but said it was certainly possible that given the way the statue was written, if broadcasters moved to new channels did not feel their coverage had been sufficiently replicated, they could claim irreparable harm and perhaps get an injunction to block the auction.

Broadcasters have said they are interested in a successful auction, but not one that compromises the coverage and/or interference protections of the broadcasters who remain in business.

McDowell said he thought in some markets, the FCC may only recover 60 MHz from broadcasters, perhaps less -- the FCC had initially targeted 120 MHz. "They forgot about Canada and Mexico," he said, referring to border spectrum coordination issues.

Commenting on the National Broadband Plan, McDowell said he thought the thrust, momentum and direction of the plan was good and helping put computers more powerful than those that sent a man to the moon in the hands of people who could never have imagined it. He said he thought the country was entering a wireless "golden age."