Lawmakers Call on FCC to Postpone Thursday's Vote

WASHINGTON—House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders wrote to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler Tuesday asking him to postpone this Thursday’s vote on incentive auction procedures. Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) were concerned about the “last-minute addition of significant data into the record” before the vote.

The data in question briefly describes the FCC’s post-auction TV station repacking simulations, which the NAB said were insufficient. The information was released Friday evening, six days before the scheduled vote at the commission regular open monthly meeting. Walden and Upton called on Wheeler “to postpone consideration of the July 16 item to allow sufficient time for all parties to review and respond to the data,” and questioned the FCC’s timing. A “Sunshine Notice” closing the record for further comment was issued a week before the meeting, then lifted the next day so the simulation data could be added to the record.

“Both of these actions are significant departures from commission procedure and raise concerns as to the public's ability to meaningfully comment on the data as well as the ability of the commissioners to vote on the item based on the information gathered,” Upton and Walden said.

“Stakeholders now find themselves in the unfortunate position of being handed an incomplete document at the 11th hour that lacks the underlying data to support its conclusions,” they said. “Releasing data of this complexity and importance in such close proximity to the open meeting impairs the ability of the public and industry to provide meaningful and considered feedback to the commission.”

Upon release of the letter, Upton and Walden issued a joing statement: “Here we go again. Like a broken record, we have heard the FCC leadership pledge repeatedly to improve process while continuing to find new ways to keep the public in the dark. Had the commission heeded the advice of commenters and released these data weeks ago, we would be lauding the commission today for its commitment to debate and a complete record. But when the commission acts to withhold data until the eleventh hour, it is going out of its way to keep the public and relevant stakeholders—including the commissioners—out of the process.

“The incentive auction has the ability to significantly improve the mobile Internet economy and ensure that broadcasters are appropriately compensated for parting with this valuable resource. To preserve these goals, Chairman Wheeler should postpone the commission’s vote and allow for appropriate public input and subsequent commission debate before moving forward. The public always wins with greater transparency.”

The full letter is here.