(MAA – Sounds to me like 3 is a majority!)
Three FCC Commissioners at CES Call for ‘Pause’ in TV Incentive Auction Set for 2016
LAS VEGAS — Three of the FCC’s five members — Mignon Clyburn, Ajit Pai and Jessica Rosenworcel — called at CES for a “pause” in the TV incentive auction, now slated for early 2016, in light of the record bidding in the AWS-3 auction. All four commissioners other than Chairman Tom Wheeler appeared on a Wednesday panel right after Wheeler’s appearance at CES (see 1501070054). Wheeler had said Wednesday the auction is still on track for next year. The FCC is starting a series of road shows contacting broadcasters.
Rosenworcel said the AWS-3 auction has brought in some $45 billion in provisionally winning bids so far, showing the huge size of the spectrum economy. In light of the AWS-3 auction, the FCC needs to do a “rethink” on the incentive auction “and take a look at incentive auction assumptions and policies, from the values that we will provide to broadcasters returning their spectrum, to interest level of broadcasters, to our closing conditions for the auction, and even the timing of the auction itself,” she said.
A pause would give carriers time to “get their financial houses in order,” before the incentive auction in light of the high bids in the AWS-3 auction, Pai said. He said it remains “absolutely essential” for the FCC to keep rules for the auction as simple as possible. The AWS-3 auction raised some interesting issues, he said: “For example, mid-band spectrum may be more valuable than we thought it was.”
Clyburn also urged the FCC to “take a pause” on the incentive auction. Without spectrum, many of the devices on display at CES are little better than “toys and trinkets,” she said. The FCC has initiated several rulemakings for the incentive auction “and we need to wrap those up,” she said. She highlighted in particular rulemakings dealing with low-power TV, inter-service interference issues and unlicensed services in the TV band. “There’s some issues that we need to address,” Clyburn said.
The AWS-3 auction shows that licensed spectrum remains “very valuable and very important,” Commissioner Mike O’Rielly said. “There’s pent up demand for licensed spectrum for a reason.” O’Rielly said he supports moving forward “as fast as possible” on the incentive auction, but it makes sense for the FCC to reconsider some of the concerns he and Pai have raised on the auction rules so far.
Pai said that as he was walking the show floor he was struck by how interconnected the world has become “whether it is a smart watch communicating with a car, which I had a chance to see … or a smartphone that monitors different appliances and manages those.” The Internet of Things has become a “reality,” he said. Pai said spectrum is the big issue and the FCC has a big role to play. “Spectrum, obviously, is the oxygen that is going to allow all these connected devices to breathe,” he said. Pai said the FCC should focus in particular on the unlicensed use of the 5 GHz band.
Rosenworcel also stressed the importance of the FCC to make more spectrum available for Wi-Fi and other unlicensed usage. Walking the show floor demonstrates it’s clear “we live in a wireless connected world” and many devices “are dependent on unlicensed spectrum,” she said. Wi-Fi must not be an “afterthought” for the commission, she said.
Health tech is becoming an increasingly important issue, as evidenced by devices on display at CES. Clyburn said she plans to make healthcare one of her top priorities this year. “Aspirational” devices are becoming a reality, she said. “I’ve got a mother who’s a diabetic,” she said. She “has to literally prick her finger several times a day,” but could potentially monitor her blood-sugar level on an hourly basis using a wireless connection. “That is revolutionary,” Clyburn said. “That can change and improve lives.”
Pai said regulatory reform is critical. “When it comes to the FCC, all too often our processes are mired in past practices,” he said. Pai said he has proposed several ideas for streamlining processes. The FCC’s recent adoption of a rocket-docket approach for handling applications for review was an important development, he said. “Instead of having the application sit there in some cases for years, now, essentially, if none of the five of us asks for a particular rights treatment that application will be granted within a certain period of time,” he said. That sounds like a small thing, but it’s not, he said.
Pai said President Barack Obama’s Nov. 10 net neutrality comments (see 1411100035) “dramatically changed” the landscape. “But in my view, the FCC has been, is now, and should always be an independent agency,” he said. “That means we should make our own independent judgment.” Pai said no one thinks the wired telephone is as innovative as the Internet. “Paradoxically, we’re on the brink of applying those very same telephone rules, which were designed for monopoly-dominated copper networks, to what I think is one of the few examples of just stunning innovation.” Title II “is not going to be the panacea some people think it will be, especially when we undergo the massive discussion with respect to forbearance,” he said.
“Suffice it to say I’ve had some concerns so far and look forward to whatever is put forward in the weeks ahead” on net neutrality, O’Rielly said. “For me, getting it right is the only option,” Clyburn said.