Wheeler: H Block Auction To Proceed

Acting FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler spent his first post-public meeting press conference mostly saying he needed to defer answers until he got more up to speed. But he did say the H block auction would go on as scheduled.

Wheeler said there would be an H block auction on Jan. 22, as scheduled. That is the first of three planned auctions  (AWS and the broadcast incentive auctions) the FCC is teeing up to free up spectrum for auction.

There have been reports that T-Mobile and Sprint don't plan to participate. Wheeler conceded that would change the dynamics, but pointed out that there was a reserve price so it was not like the FCC would walk away empty-handed. But he also said the absence of some players could be seen as opportunities for others to participate — applications to participate close Nov. 15.

He also said if he could walk around with a signboard advertising the auction, the message would be "Y'all come."

But asked whether the FCC needed to decide on its proposal to change its local market spectrum aggregation triggers, he said he was going to have to "punt" on that "becuase I'm not ready to answer it yet. But I am not sitting around here sucking eggs. We're looking seriously at these issues," he added.

Wheeler deferred answers on when the FCC might conclude its media ownership review, but said it would wrap up the quadrennial review given that it was due in 2014.

He declined to weigh in on what authority the FCC had over retransmission consent negotiations, saying he would need to conduct his own independent analysis, which he said he had not yet done.

He also said he had not looked into a story by the New York Times about AT&T selling call records to the CIA, and whether that would be a violation of FCC rules on care of customer's proprietary info (CPNI).

Asked his take on the over-the-top video reform bill introduced this week by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D- W.Va.), Wheeler said he had not seen the bill and could not weigh in on the FCC's role in that marketplace. He said the more discussion and debate about the changing video marketplace, the better. "What's happening in the evolution in the video marketplace is something that we seriously have to keep abreast of but figure out what the policy ramifications are. We certainly have not drawn conclusions about what those policy ramifications are, but you would have to be living on another planet not to know there are huge dynamic changes taking place in that. It is worthwhile to have the kind of debate and discussion and review that this kind of legislation promotes."

Wheeler said that reforming the contribution side of the Universal Service Fund was important.

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.