Schumer to FCC: Don't Limit Wireless Bidders

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has urged the FCC not to adopt any incentive auction rules that would limit the participation of "certain wireless carriers." That came in a letter Wednesday (Nov. 20) to new FCC chairman Tom Wheeler.

Schumer did not name them, but the "certain carriers" are primarily Verizon and AT&T, who have been battling an effort by Sprint and T-Mobile to potentially limit their ability to participate by limiting the amount of low-band, beachfront spectrum holdings in any single market or letting smaller carriers bid first for some spectrum and allow the larger ones — AT&T and Verizon — to bid if a benchmark price Is not met.

Sprint and T-Mobile argue that, given how much low-band spectrum the top two largest companies already own, it's incumbent upon the FCC to impose "reasonable" limits. One sticking point with that plan is that the FCC, while wanting to preserve competition, also wants to get as much money for the spectrum as possible. T-Mobile has offered up a plan in which the aggregation limits would be loosened or removed if the spectrum does not fetch a set floor price. But Schumer does not appear to be a fan. "I urge you, in structuring these auctions, to maximize participation by broadcasters and bidders alike by avoiding limitations that could lower the potential return and disincentivize broadcasters from offering their spectrum for auction."

He said he understood that some had advocated those limits, he said the biggest loser in that scenario would be FirstNet and public safety.

"It is the responsibility of the Commission to structure the auction so that broadcasters will realize substantial benefit for choosing to put spectrum up for auction, broadcasters who will have to move to new channel assignments can be adequately compensated, and so that the auctions can generate maximum revenue in order to adequately fund FirstNet," Schumer wrote in a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

FirstNet is the interoperable, first responder broadband network being paid for out of auction revenues. Elsewhere, the House Communications Subcommittee was holding its second oversight hearing on FirstNet.

Wheeler said the principal purpose of the auction should be to pay for FirstNet, with number two being freeing up spectrum "not being used to its fullest potential."

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.