At his Senate Commerce Committee confirmation hearing last Tuesday, Tom Wheeler, the President’s choice to be the next FCC Chairman, showed a reassuring grasp of consumers’ need for more spectrum to fuel the amazing benefits of mobile broadband technologies. Specifically, Wheeler seems to understand the FCC’s vital role in an upcoming spectrum incentive auction so that it fulfills its Congressional mandates and frees up spectrum for continued mobile innovation.
Acknowledging that the incentive auction, the first of its kind that allows broadcasters to voluntarily relinquish spectrum to then be sold for mobile broadband use, would be complex, Wheeler likened the incentive auction to a multi-faceted “Rubik’s cube.” If confirmed, the FCC under his leadership must ensure that auction rules are designed to economically encourage broadcasters to sell their spectrum, while simultaneously ensuring that rules are in place that encourage carriers to show up to bid top dollar for the spectrum.
In an exchange with Senator Scott, Wheeler stressed that “you have to provide incentives sufficient for the broadcasters to want to bring spectrum to the market.” The FCC must, he said, allow all bidders to participate, create a feasible band plan, and ensure that the sellers and the buyers have properly aligned incentives so they want to participate.
He characterized crafting the auction rules as “a monumental undertaking,” but, rather than shying away from the challenge, he maintained that “it was possible to find the right solution.” He identified the auction as a top priority and pledged to see this auction succeed. We commend him for his willingness to tackle this job.
Wheeler also articulated the importance of the FCC moving with dispatch, saying he would move expeditiously to make spectrum available by auction as directed by Congress. Wheeler, a businessman himself, underscored that “there is nothing worse than businesses not knowing what the rules are” and that the Commission must make decisions “in a timely manner.”
And what are the Congressional mandates that the auction must satisfy? To be deemed a success, the auction must raise adequate revenues to meet Congressional goals: paying broadcasters, covering relocation costs, and fully funding a high-speed nationwide public safety communications network. He recognized that if the Commission does not structure the auction properly, the FCC will fail to meet these funding goals set forth by Congress.
While the proposed incentive auction is indeed complex and will not be easy, Wheeler’s hearing demonstrated that he knows his responsibility and his potential future role at the FCC to ensuring its success.
If Wheeler and the FCC get the auction rules right, consumers will win with access to even more innovative advanced mobile broadband devices and services. We think Wheeler is the right man at the right time to get this done.
Marcella Gadson is the Editor in Chief of the Broadband and Social Justice Blog and Director of Communications at the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC).