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Wheeler Says He'll Fight Attempts to Delay Auction

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has assured some prominent House and Senate Democrats that the incentive auction is still on track for early 2016—less than a year away—and that he will oppose attempts to delay it, which he says could hurt broadcasters as well as wireless companies eager for spectrum.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (Calif.) and Sen. Ed Markey (Mass.) had written to Wheeler to encourage him to make sure that the FCC had reserved enough spectrum for non-dominant low-band spectrum holders—the dominant ones are principally AT&T and Verizon, they pointed out.

In his reply, Wheeler said that he would "strenuously oppose" any attempt by carriers with "sufficient" low-band spectrum to delay the auction "in order to preserve their competitive advantage in holding almost all the spectrum for as long as possible."

Wheeler said delaying the auction would hurt consumers, competition, the wireless industry, and even the broadcast industry, since it would postpone "attractive opportunities" and "perpetuate uncertainty in the industry as a whole."

He listed a number of reasons why the broadcast incentive auction should not be delayed including: 1) demand for wireless broadband that continues to "surge"; 2) that broadcaster interest in participating has gathered significant momentum—he cited the support of Fox, Ion, Tribune and Univision for an early 2016 deadline (something that helped pivot NAB toward that position); 3) the success of the AWS-3 auction, which he said confirms a strong market for spectrum and argued should not have sufficiently strained the financial capacity of carriers to participate in an early 2016 auction; and 4) the "beachfront" nature of the low-band spectrum which makes it critical for extending and improving service.

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.