Pai: FCC Should Not Use Regulatory Levers To Force Auction Participation

In his prepared statement on an update on the FCC's incentive auctions, Commissioner Ajit Pai warned the commission not to try and force broadcasters into participating by toughening ownership rules.

"[W]e must ensure that the voluntary incentive auction is truly voluntary," he said.

"For this reason, I strongly oppose regulatory ratchets designed to pressure broadcasters into participating in the incentive auction."

As an example he used proposals to change the rules on Joint Sales Agreements and Shared Services Agreements. Some broadcasters fear the FCC could do just that as part of its quadrennial review of media ownership rules. It has already blocked one such arrangement involving the Gannett/Belo merger, and signaled it would be looking at those deals on a case-by-case basis.

If the FCC starts cracking down via that case-by-case review, or changes the rules to make such arrangements attributable, as it could do in the ownership revamp, that could make broadcasting a less attractive investment, arguably putting a thumb on the scale of giving up spectrum to the auction.

Pai argued, as he has before, that JSAs and SSAs can save costs on services viewers want and broadcasters want to offer.

And while Pai supports a wireless industry test of channel sharing in Los Angeles, he said the FCC should team with the National Association of Broadcasters on an education campaign about sharing and other options that will provide "straightforward and objective information."

NAB has been saying that sharing will not allow broadcasters enough spectrum to be full participants in a digital future filled with new competitors and video options.

"We wholeheartedly support the FCC's incentive auction process and agree with Commissioner Pai that NAB can play a valuable role, if called upon," said NAB Executive VP Dennis Wharton. "We also appreciate Commissioner Pai making it clear that the FCC should not use other broadcast-related proceedings to persuade TV broadcasters to relinquish spectrum in the incentive auction. As Congress made clear, the incentive auction should be completely voluntary and broadcasters should not be coerced into participating in any manner."

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.