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Wheeler: Broadcasters Have Most Auction Info They Need

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler says he thinks broadcasters, "for the most part" have the information they need to decide whether or not to participate in the FCC's upcoming broadcast incentive auction.

That came in response to a question at a Senate Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee hearing Tuesday (May 12) on the commission's FY2016 budget.

Wheeler said that broadcasters would get more information in the next couple of months—when the FCC completes work on the auction framework.

Wheeler told the senators that he had met with major broadcast CEOs who he said were "seriously looking at whether or not" they would put spectrum up for auction. Fox, Ion, Tribune and Univision have all signaled they could be players at the right price, likely by giving up second channels duopoly markets and moving the programming to a multicast channel on the primary, or giving up spectrum but making deals to share a channel with another station.

Wheeler said that while he thought there was great broadcaster interest he would not know "until they open the doors." He reiterated at the hearing that the auction is still targeted for early 2016.

Asked about the FCC's reclassification of ISPs under Title II and congressional efforts to step in, he said he had heard that Senate Commerce Committee chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and ranking member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) continued to talk about legislation—a Hill source with knowledge of the discussions confirmed that was the case—and said the FCC would certainly "bow to any decision" Congress made.

He was also asked why the FCC did not wait for Congress to weigh in before reclassifying, but he did not answer that part of the question.

Wheeler would not speculate on the legal costs the FCC would incur from defending the new open Internet rules, which have been challenged in court by cable and telco associations and others, but did say that it was a fixed cost—the FCC's general counsel's office—adding that the FCC was not going out and hiring (former solicitor general) Ted Olsen, for example.

Wheeler continued to defend the decision to close 16 of 24 field offices, saying it would help, not hurt, interference monitoring.

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.