FCC Pushes Wireless Spectrum Auction to Mid 2015

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, insisting on getting perfect both the facts about the auction and the technical infrastructure, has delayed the auction by a year.

wireless spectrum auction

The Federal Communications Commission has pushed its timeline to hold wireless spectrum auctions from 2014 to now mid-2015.

New FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, in a Dec. 6 blog post, said he is "mightily impressed" by the work the Incentive Auction Task Force has accomplished to ready the FCC for the auctions, that Commissioners Rosenworcel and Pai have "helped to sharpen the issues" and Commissioner Clyburn, who was acting chairwoman during the months it took the Senate to confirm Wheeler's position, "kept the pedal to the metal, and it shows."

He went on to say that the FCC must make "fact-based policy decisions in an open and transparent manner," as well as "exhaustively test the operating systems and software necessary to conduct the world's first-of-a-kind incentive auction"—a comment that seems to nod at the failed rollout of the Affordable Healthcare Act's Healthcare.gov site.

"As any responsible manager knows, managing a complex undertaking such as this also requires an ongoing commitment to continuously and honestly assess its readiness and its project plan," Wheeler went on.

"I believe we can conduct a successful auction in the middle of 2015. To achieve that goal, there will be a number of important milestones along the way. The Task Force will provide more details about the timeline and milestones in a presentation at the January 2014 Commission meeting."

The wireless carriers have been anxiously awaiting the auction—they called for an auction for years, before the FCC announced in September 2012 that it would hold one—as their abilities to grow their networks depend largely on acquiring more spectrum. The spectrum in the auction is to come from television broadcasters.

"T-Mobile appreciates that the FCC has a complex task ahead of it implementing the 600MHz Incentive Auction," Kathleen Ham, vice president of federal regulatory affairs at T-Mobile, said in a statement responding to Wheeler's blog.

"We are very supportive of getting it right and will work with the FCC to ensure the auction is a success, promoting competition, innovation and consumer benefit," she said.

Wheeler's 'Complex Undertaking'

While the FCC, no doubt, faces a complex undertaking in ensuring that "the operating systems and software to run it work from the moment the first bid is placed, until the final broadcast station is relocated, or 'repacked,'" as Wheeler wrote in his post, just as unenviable will be establishing the rules of the game.

The carriers have been aggressively lobbying for how each thinks the auction should be run. T-Mobile and Sprint believe limits should be put in place, as to how much any single participant can buy. Their fear is that by the time Verizon and AT&T tie up their purse strings, only scraps will be left—while Verizon and AT&T argue that limits will hurt the amount of revenue the auction is able to raise.

An agenda of the auction is to raise at least $7 billion for the construction of a nationwide wireless emergency communications network.

While pushing back the event, Wheeler said he was "mindful" of the national interest in freeing up more spectrum and "acutely aware" of the importance of funding the first-response network.

"These imperatives are balanced with the recognition that we have but one chance to get the incentive auction right," said Wheeler, adding that all parties will "spare no effort to ensure that the incentive auction not only delivers the anticipated benefits to the American people, but also serves as a model for countries around the world."