Senators want to give FCC more discretion in spectrum auctions

The holidays are over and arguments about the broadcast spectrum auctions are back on the Hill. House Republicans tried to push through restrictions on the FCC involving the auctions before the end of last year, but they didn’t succeed. Now, the Senate is trying to undo them.

Four U.S. senators have called on the Senate to stay away from the House Republican-backed proposals for spectrum incentive auction legislation as they work out a compromise bill. Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Olympia Snowe (R-Me.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) advised the Senate leadership against limiting the FCC’s ability to set aside spectrum from the incentive auctions for more unlicensed wireless use and for limiting the conditions the FCC could put on bidders for reclaimed broadcast spectrum.

The FCC should have the flexibility to free up more unlicensed spectrum, particularly given the increase in Wi-Fi use by tablet owners, the senators said. Such flexibility could allow for new uses that “complement” licensed spectrum. “In the rush to fill the treasury’s coffers,” the senators wrote in a letter to the Senate leadership, “we must not neglect the fertile ground for innovation unlicensed spectrum offers.”

The senators also oppose Republican efforts to limit FCC-imposed conditions on auction bidders. While at first it appears to be an effort to ensure openness and competition, the senators said that the Republicans actually restrict the commission’s flexibility to “attract a sufficient number of bidders to ensure competitive bidding and maximize auction revenues.”

The senators said the FCC needs to remain flexible when dealing with rapidly developing technology.

“Modernizing our nation’s radio spectrum planning, management and coordination activities to better meet the future spectrum needs of all users is a difficult undertaking which deals with very complex issues that demand flexibility,” the senators wrote. “We must suppress our desire to be overly prescriptive to derive some predetermined outcome and because of the ever-changing landscape allow the FCC to set the proper course, over the long-term, to maximize the full economic and social benefit that wireless spectrum offers.”

Interestingly, the House Republican-created issue of network neutrality, which was attached in an amendment to the House bill, went unmentioned by the senators. It was termed “a poison pill” by Henry Waxman (D-CA).