House Democrats: FCC has the legal right to limit companies that aggregate spectrum

House Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee have told the FCC that it has the legal right to follow the Justice Department’s antitrust recommendation to keep companies from acquiring too much spectrum in the TV broadcast band auction.

The Democrats, led by ranking committee member Rep. Henry Waxman and ranking communications subcommittee member Rep. Anna Eshoo, both from California, said the law clearly “does not require the FCC to allow every carrier to bid for every megahertz of a spectrum band.”

The group said a system of competitive bidding under the Communications Act can include multiple groups of licenses or blocks of licenses. It’s permissible, they said, for the FCC to set aside blocks of licenses within an auction on which particular bidders may not bid as long as those bidders are eligible for other blocks or licenses being auctioned.

The Democrats criticized the Republican leadership on the committee for misleading the FCC. “Unfortunately this is not the first time Republican members of the committee have sought to advance a one-sided reinterpretation of the goals and meaning of legislation," they wrote.

Republicans, the Democrats said, have previously tried “to spin the legislative history in a way that inaccurately reflects the intent of Congress in adapting these provisions.”

The group said the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice is entitled to serious consideration on market foreclosure and the relative competitive value of various spectrum bands.

In addition to Waxman and Eshoo, the letter was signed by Reps. Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Mike Doyle (D-PA) and Doris O. Matsui (D-CA).