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Some House Dems Back Low-Band Set Aside

Some leading Democratic members of the House Energy & Commerce Committee are encouraging the FCC to reserve some low-band spectrum in the broadcast incentive auction, saying it is important that "every carrier has the opportunity to bid and win this beachfront spectrum."

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is proposing to set aside from the broadcast incentive forward auction up to 30 MHz of spectrum in each market as a reserve for companies with less than 1/3 of the low-band spectrum in those markets. A vote on the proposal is scheduled for Thursday (May 15).

AT&T and others have complained about that reserve, saying it could reduce auction participation and revenues and unfairly favors companies perfectly capable of winning spectrum in an open auction. But the FCC argues its proposal is a modest one that balances the need for robust participation in the auction and for making sure that low band spectrum gets into the hands of more carriers. The Democrats agree.

"[W]e believe that a proposal to reserve a portion of the available licenses for carriers with limited nationwide low-frequency holdings will stimulate auction competition and revenues, ensuring opportunity to bid and win spectrum to enhance and extend rural build out and improve coverage in all areas, while guarding against excessive concentration of spectrum resources," they wrote.

Among those signing on to the letter were ranking E&C member Henry Waxman, ranking Communications subcommittee member Anna Eshoo and Rep. Doris Matsui.

Two weeks ago, every Republican member of the Communications Subcommittee asked Wheeler to rethink the set-aside. In their letter to the FCC, they call that an attempt to "manipulate the market." They said that "artificial set-asides" and other restrictions "alter the playing field and distort the outcome."