GAO urges extension of FCC spectrum auction authority


The FCC is currently trying to gain authority to run incentive auctions of spectrum in the television band in an effort to make more room for wireless broadband, for which it will need congressional approval. But its authority to run any kind of auction expires at the end of September this year. The Government Accountability Office is recommending general congressional reauthorization.

GAO said that the FCC’s history with auctions and its current plans going forward attracted a wide range of opinion from various stakeholders. However, extending the FCC’s auction authority was noncontroversial. 53 of 65 respondents to a GAO study supported the extension.

GAO said that the FCC has auctioned off some 520 MHz of spectrum over the years, but at great expense of time and effort. It is especially difficult in the case of a spectrum repurposing, such as is being proposed currently in the television band. Six such efforts took between seven and 15 years, according to GAO.

GAO identified four primary stumbling blocks: “the regulatory nature of the process, which to some extent is guided by statute; opposition of incumbent users, who could be required to vacate spectrum; coordination challenges between FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which oversees federal agencies’ use of spectrum, on the repurposing of federal spectrum for commercial use; and concerns about interference from users of spectrum in adjacent bands of spectrum.”

FCC is hoping that the incentive auction concept will speed things along in the current effort. However, such a plan requires congressional approval and efforts to push a bill home before the end of 2011 failed.