Pai: FCC Should Let Marketplace Decide Price of Auctioned TV Spectrum

FCC commissioner Ajit Pai told a CTIA audience in Las Vegas
this week that if the FCC tries to set "initial offers" for broadcast
stations in the reverse spectrum auction, it should not do so based on the
population it serves or the value of its station business.

With that, he is speaking the language of the Preston
Padden-led Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition, a group of
stations looking to sell spectrum for the right price.

"[I]f we do establish 'initial offers' (to use the
terminology of a descending clock auction), they need to be high enough to
encourage participation and they have to be based on relevant criteria. The
word 'relevant' is important here. The incentive auction is about purchasing
spectrum, or more specifically interference rights. It is not about buying
broadcast stations," Pai said.

Pai also said that the FCC should release its methodology
for repacking TV stations after the auction ASAP and embrace the "down
from 51" band plan proposed by the National Association of Broadcasters
and wireless companies.

"Particularly when it comes to developing our band plan
and repacking methodology, we must deal with the world the way that it is, not
as we might wish it were. This means putting ideology and politics aside and
concentrating instead on the simple question of what will work from an engineering
perspective," he said.

Broadcasters have argued that from that engineering
perspective, the "down from 51" plan that does not intermingle
broadcast and wireless spectrum is the way to go to avoid interference. The
FCC's wireless bureau has suggested that is an insufficiently flexible

"[I]t is time for the Commission to move on from the
NPRM and embrace the consensus 'down from Channel 51' proposal," he said.  "We agree with Commissioner Pai that the time is now to move forward with certain key aspects of the band plan around which many industries have coalesced," said National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton.

Pai also called on the FCC to release its repacking software,
which will help find new spectrum homes for broadcasters after the auction.
"Carriers and broadcasters have said, and I agree, that stakeholders need
an adequate opportunity to review and comment on this software in the near
term," he said. "So, completing our development of that software and
releasing it in the coming months needs to be one of our top priorities, if not
the top priority."

Pai called on broadcasters and the FCC to get together on
the OET-69 station methodology for calculating coverage areas and interference
potentials in that repacking. "This is an important topic," he said,
"but not one we can afford to spend much more time on. That's why I've
encouraged the broadcast and wireless industries to come together and work on a
mutually acceptable compromise."

He says broadcasters should not stand in the way of updates
that would allow the software to work better and include more recent census
data. "If the wireless and broadcast industries approach this task with
the same cooperative spirit they have shown in working on the 600 MHz band
plan, I'm confident that they can get this done," he said.

That may take some doing. Broadcastershave argued that the FCC's proposed OET-69 changes are illegal.

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.