At last week’s CES Show, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski mentioned that the FCC needed flexibility to properly run incentive auctions designed to make space in the television band for wireless broadband. House Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton called it a power grab.
Genachowski made a number of remarks that did not sit well with Upton. Saying we had to move on auctions right away, Genachowski launched into a description of the battle on Capitol Hill. “But getting it right is as important as getting it done,” he said. “In fact, doing it wrong would undermine the reasons to adopt incentive auction legislation in the first place. We’re close, but we’re not there yet. There is broad bipartisan agreement that we need incentive auctions, and the Senate Commerce Committee passed bipartisan legislation giving the FCC incentive auction authority on a 21 to 4 vote. It did it in a manner that would give the FCC sufficient flexibility to conduct incentive auctions in a way that would generate massive value.”
Here’s a swat from Genachowski that seems aimed at the House spectrum bill: “One proposal would prohibit the FCC from allocating any recovered spectrum to innovative unlicensed use; another would eliminate traditional FCC tools for setting terms for participation in auctions. A broad range of America’s top experts on auctions agree that it would not be wise to prejudge or micromanage FCC auction design and band plans. Doing so could significantly diminish the value of spectrum auctions, and stifle mobile innovation.”
Upton unloaded on Genachowski: “Bluster aside, it sounds like we have a federal agency more concerned about preserving its own power than offering serious improvements as we prepare to finalize this legislation. We worked with the FCC’s auction experts to give the agency the legitimate flexibility it needs to design the mechanics of the auction. It’s time to stop the FCC from engaging in political mischief that will hurt competition and steal money from the taxpayer’s coffers. Don’t take our word for it – look at the 2008 auction. The FCC imposed conditions on the C and D blocks that ultimately prevented the D-block from selling and pushed smaller carriers out of the auction. Taxpayers lost somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 billion, and spectrum remains sidelined. And speaking of protecting taxpayers, it’s time for the FCC and others to be honest about how taxpayers would be affected by their plans to give away valuable spectrum to favored constituencies. Our goal is to strike the right balance by keeping plenty of opportunity for unlicensed use without forcing taxpayers to forfeit any return on a resource that everyone agrees is worth billions.”
But he may as well have unloaded on a foursome from the Senate, two democrats and two Republicans, who said essentially the same thing Genachoswki did. The group included John Kerry (D-MA), Chairman of the Senate Communications Subcommittee, Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Jerry Moran (R-KS).
RBR-TVBR observation: Regardless of your opinion in this matter, Genachowski was basically echoing the comments of a bipartisan group of Senators. Perhaps Upton should have directed his PR machine at the other side of the Capitol Building, not at the FCC across the Mall.