Democrats sitting on the Federal Communications Commission believe that the declaratory ruling on TV coverage and audience reach was a clarification. The Republicans weren’t so sure. And one commissioner questioned the ability to keep the auction on schedule.
Chairman Tom Wheeler observed that this was no big deal, and said that only in Washington is it possible to get wound up by whether an item is a clarification or a modification. “This does not modify the treatment of coverage areas. This does explain how the report and order meets the statute.”
He said the purpose is simply to clear up a misunderstanding, and that’s all it is.
Ajit Pai supplied most of the opposition. He noted that the rules were established, the NAB challenged them in court, the case is pending, and concluded that this is the wrong time to be bringing the matter up in unusual fashion at an FCC Open Meeting.
Pai wondered if the plank was an additional FCC-supporting argument aired for the benefit of the court. “Courts don’t countenance such shenanigans,” he observed, noting that it could delay rather than speed up implementation of the auction.
Michael O’Rielly expressed similar misgivings. Additionally his comments were notable for his observation that getting the auction off the ground by summer 2015 was going to be a “heavy lift,” noting that it was more important to get it done right than fast.
The measure passed 3-2 on party lines.
Two other incentive auction items basically involved finding space for unlicensed devices and wireless microphones in a television spectrum band that will be significantly more crowded. The FCC is basically seeking comment on approaches it can take to preserve both services.
Mignon Clyburn noted that the approach at this point was to excuse the attorneys and regulators from the room and let the engineers and scientists take over.
Both measures passed unanimously.
RBR-TVBR observation: At issue was the NAB’s contention that it was the intent of Congress that the FCC go above and beyond the call of duty to assure that neither broadcasters and their audiences were harmed in any way, whether by loss of service or loss of money, by an incentive auction primarily intended to benefit wireless companies.
The NAB believes that instead of taking this approach, the FCC was hanging its hat on the word “reasonable,” and that it was OK with some collateral damage to broadcasters and their audience in the name of getting the incentive auction off the ground.
As far as we can tell, the matter is still going to be decided in the District Circuit. It certainly wasn’t decided at the FCC September Open Meeting.