O'Rielly: OK With March 29 Auction Start

FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly says he generally supports the broadcast incentive auction time frame, including the recently revealed March 29 target start date. He said he is willing to listen to legitimate arguments for why that target can't be met, but is "comfortable" with moving forward "as best we can."

O'Rielly said he thought the auction should be held as soon as possible, so long as it was done right, but added that he did not have input on the chairman's agenda or timing of first quarter 2016.

That was in an interview for C-SPAN's Communicators series.

Asked what would qualify as legitimate, O'Rielly said the FCC's obligation is to hold a successful auction. "There is no value in having a failed auction," he said. So, if there is an argument why something needs to be delayed or it will harm the auction,  he said he would look "closely" at.

He said in order to hit that mark, the FCC still needs to make sure its software works and to conduct mock auctions.

Asked how he defined success, O'Rielly, who worked on spectrum auction legislation while a Hill staffer, said success means getting the right balance of wireless demand for spectrum and dollar demands from broadcasters for it to be able to meet revenue targets and close the auction.

He said that from his conversations with broadcasters, he has seen interest in participation, particularly after the $40-plus billion AWS-3 wireless spectrum auction demonstrated how valuable spectrum was. "Certainly the financial dollars that came from our AWS-3 auction, when they see how much could be available to them, that has certainly enticed

broadcasters to have a more open mind on the process."

He said he would like to see more information provided broadcasters to help them make the decision about participation.

He cited a recent "scuffle" over info, a reference to the FCC's 11th hour release of information about putting TV stations in the duplex gap, the "scuffle" over which helped push a July 16 vote on that and other auction issues into early August.

The commission said he had to be careful talking about an item he will be voting on, but pointed out he has long opposed putting broadcasters in the duplex gap, but said he thought the auction team was trying to put together a doable auction and thought putting the stations in the gap was doable, adding that he would just have to see how it plays out.

At a B&C/TV Technology Webinar Thursday, Howard Symons, vice chair of the FCC's incentive auction task force said it was indeed doable, would only affect a handful of stations, and was necessary so as not to limit the amount of spectrum the FCC could free up. The National Association of Broadcasters also opposed putting stations in the gap, talking about its impact on the wireless mic and unlicensed users already being housed there in the FCC's new band plan.

He said that he thought it would be 3-5 years after the auction before wireless carriers would start using it.

Asked how he would revamp communications law, piecemeal or wholesale, he said he leaned toward piecemeal, and said he would probably focus on video portions, though he said given it is an election year and those video reforms, cable and online regs for example, are a heavier lift, process reforms are the most likely thing to get done.

The Communicators airs Saturday, July 25, on C-SPAN at 6:30 p.m. NYT and Monday, July 27, on C-SPAN2 at 8 a.m. ET and 8 p.m. NYT.

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.