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Wheeler to Hill: Broadcasters Will Get Auction Pricing Info

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has told Congress, as FCC staffers told a public hearing audience last week, that he is committed to providing broadcasters more information about the timeline for the incentive auction, as well as potential opening bid amounts.

That is according to written testimony for Wheeler's solo appearance before the House Communications Subcommittee May 20.

Broadcasters have said they need to know how much the government is offering before they know whether they want to enter spectrum in the auction. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has also said that is threshold information, and that not providing it could jeopardize the success of the auction.

Wheeler also says the FCC should take a page from Google fiber about easing the spread of broadband.

"Google has developed a checklist for cities that want to participate in their Google Fiber project of steps that can be taken to ensure easier access to existing infrastructure and to make construction speedier and more predictable," Wheeler says. "The FCC should be asking similar questions about our own rules, cutting red tape wherever possible."

On a related topic, Wheeler puts in a plug for preempting state laws that have been backed by incumbent broadband providers including cable operators.

"If municipal governments want to pursue [municipally owned broadband systems]," he says, "they shouldn’t be inhibited by state laws that have been adopted at the behest of incumbent providers looking to limit competition." He pledged again to use the FCC's power to preempt those laws.

The chairman continues his defense of the new open Internet rulemaking the FCC launched last week on a party line 3-2 vote, with even some Democrat pushback. "I believe that the Section 706 framework set forth by the Court of Appeals in Verizon is sufficient to give us the authority to adopt and implement robust rules that will accomplish this goal," he says. "At the same time, the Notice we adopted asks whether the best path forward is under Title II. The entire purpose of an NPRM is to give Americans the ability to express themselves and provide analysis and guidance.

Among the other highlights and notable quotes:

On coordinated retrans negotiations: “In March, the Commission adopted new rules to prohibit joint retransmission consent negotiations by same market TV stations that are both ranked in the Top 4 in order to level the playing field and to potentially keep such agreements from unfairly increasing cable rates for consumers.”

On media ownership: "I am committed to completing this review and having final recommendations by June 2016.

Past reviews have resulted in court remands, and the Commission is exploring how best to craft rules that can survive judicial review.

Also on media ownership: "[W]e have an on-going responsibility to enforce our rules, including to close loopholes and to ensure that those who play by the rules are not disadvantaged."

On limiting joint sales agreements (JSAs): "By prohibiting arrangements that have the full effect of common ownership – by stations’ own admission in their SEC filings – we will protect viewpoint diversity and competition goals."

On the new spectrum aggregation screen that includes new low-band limits: “Our approach is pro-public safety – waiving the spectrum aggregation screen when carriers partner with FirstNet and ensuring that our public safety broadband network will be fully funded.”

On the incentive auction: "I’ve likened the auction to a Rubik’s Cube, with a big difference being that you can’t pull up a How-To-Solve-The-Incentive-Auction video on YouTube."

On broadband deployment: "The private sector must play the leading role in extending broadband networks to every American."

On closed captioning quality standards: "NCTA, NAB, and MPAA—stepped up to the plate to help craft a set of rules that moves us toward improving captioning quality, while also assuring that vital news and other types of programming provide captioning."