Genachowski implores Congress to maintain agency flexibility

Speaking Jan. 11 at the 2012 International CES in Las Vegas, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski called on Congress to grant his agency authority to conduct voluntary incentive auctions without a pair of restrictions under consideration by some lawmakers that he said would restrict the commission’s flexibility in how it implements the auctions.

Genachowski took aim at two proposals in Congress: one would prohibit the agency from allocating any recovered spectrum to unlicensed use; the second would impose eligibility conditions on those allowed to participate in the auction.

The restrictions effectively would tie the agency’s hands and leave it unable to respond to unforeseen developments. “We don’t know what the world will look like when the FCC adopts auction rules,” he said. “Even a visionary like Bill Gates once said that ‘no one will need more than 637 kilobytes of memory for a personal computer.”

Restricting the agency in how it conducts the auctions would be a real mistake, the consequences of which could be harmful to the nation in terms of its competitiveness and the public, the chairman said. Doing so “prejudges the future in an essentially irreversible way,” he added.

Labeling the proposals to restrict the flexibility of the agency in conducting the auctions “a significant departure from precedent, Genachowski said the hard questions raised by spectrum- and auction-related issues are better answered based on the evidence as close as possible in time to when they needed to be decided.

Genachowski referenced a letter from a bipartisan group of four U.S. Senators urging Congress not to tie the hands of the agency in how it may conduct the auctions. Spectrum planning and auction design are complex and technical, he said. Congress is due to make its decision on incentive auctions by March 1.

The FCC National Broadband Plan calls for clearing 120MHz of TV spectrum through the use of voluntary incentive auctions.