Republicans urge FCC to focus on incentive auction

Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the FCC
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Image: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Republican congressional leaders urged the FCC to focus on the ongoing incentive auction and ease up on “controversial” issues during the transition to a Trump administration.

Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who serves as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chair of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, jointly submitted a letter (PDF) to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler saying the auction of 600 MHz airwaves should be the Commission’s top priority for the next 10 weeks.

“The successful completion of the auction will provide needed spectrum to meet Americans’ wireless broadband needs and ensure that Americans continue to enjoy the local news and national programming broadcasters provide,” the congressmen wrote. “We strongly urge you to concentrate the Commission’s attention and resources only on matters that require action under the efforts to foster the success of the broadcast incentive auction.”

The letter comes ahead of tomorrow’s FCC meeting during which the Commission is scheduled to vote on revisions for a regulatory framework for Business Data Services, among other issues. The Commission last month voted to implement new privacy rules for internet service providers including wireless carriers, and last week it expressed “serious concerns” over AT&T’s pricing model for DirecTV Now, which is slated to launch in the next few weeks.

Wheeler is widely expected to exit the FCC soon after Trump is inaugurated on January 20.

As the legislators noted in the letter, the FCC dropped some initiatives eight years ago when top Democrats made a similar request following the election of Barack Obama. “As Rep. Henry Waxman and Senator Jay Rockefeller noted during the 2008 Presidential transition, it would be counterproductive for the FCC to consider complex and controversial items that the new Congress and new Administration would have an interest in reviewing,” they wrote.

The incentive auction is currently in Stage 3 after a second stage generated only $21.5 billion in bids, falling far short of the $54.6 billion that would have ended the event. The auction is likely to drag into 2017, and a 39-month spectrum “repacking” process will follow as TV broadcasters move to new airwaves, freeing up spectrum for wireless use.