Senate Seeks FCC Documents on Dish AWS-3 Role

The Senate Commerce Committee has asked for documents from the FCC related to bidding in the AWS-3 spectrum auction by Dish-affiliated companies.

The FCC said Wednesday that it had accepted spectrum applications for winning bids submitted by those companies, Northstar and SNR, but said it is far from finished with vetting those bids and whether they should qualify for some $3 billion in bidding credits extended to designated entities.

In a release issued late Wednesday under the headline "Commerce Probes $3 Billion Collusion Concern in FCC Spectrum Auction," committee chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) signaled that the he had significant questions and concerns about whether the bidding strategy by Dish and its affiliates squared with both the letter and the intent of the law.

The committee has also sent document requests to Dish, Northstar and SNR.

“While the FCC is reportedly already looking at whether DISH broke auction rules, an examination of how these affiliated companies approached the auction is the only way for Congress to determine whether this three billion dollar price tag was appropriate or a result of wrongful conduct, flawed agency rules, or laws Congress must update," Thune said.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has sought comment on how the auction bidding rules need to be changed to insure that "slick lawyers" don't game the system.

Dish said it was pleased the FCC had confirmed the NorthStar and SNR applications were acceptable for filing. Asked about the Commerce investigation, Dish said in a statement: “We support the FCC’s efforts to perform a thorough, substantive and fair review of all long-form license applications. Regarding Chairman Thune’s interest in the AWS-3 Auction, we look forward to working with him on this matter.

“We are confident that we fully complied with all legal requirements for the AWS-3 auction, including antitrust law and the DE rules, which were unanimously approved by the full Commission. Our approach — which was fully and publicly disclosed ahead of the auction — was based on DE investment structures that have been approved by the FCC in past wireless spectrum auctions, including structures used by many other auction participants in the past.  Participation by small businesses through the DE program helped make the AWS-3 auction, on a gross and net basis, the most successful spectrum auction in FCC history."

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.