Shenanigans at FCC?

Posted on June 5th, 2013 by

Many have been suspicious of the government’s objectives in connection with the TV spectrum auction that is designed to re-purpose TV spectrum to mobile broadband use. Well, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai has now unequivocally confirmed that those who are suspicious have every reason to be.

After an early May 2013 workshop where broadcasters and wireless providers arrived at some consensus on a “Down From Channel 51” nationwide band plan, the Wireless Bureau – a
mere two hours before Chairman Genachowski’s tenure ended – issued a notice seeking to supplement the record with comments from the public. However, the notice is slanted not toward fleshing out the apparent industry consensus position, but instead on offering an alternative to and raising questions about the “Down From 51” plan. The Bureau’s apparent concern is that the consensus plan robs the process of flexibility.

Commissioner Pai’s statement issued alongside the Notice is not a happy one. He characterizes the auction powers-that-be within the Commission as deliberately “sidelining” sitting Commissioners on significant issues that should be FCC-driven, not Bureau driven. He notes that he received only a 48-hour advance warning that the notice was going to be issued, and was not consulted on its scope or content. He also makes clear that the FCC’s early April broadcast television freeze order was issued without his knowledge, and without any advance warning. Finally, Commissioner Pai warns that these actions will delay an auction and present legal issues related to whether Bureaus have the authority to conduct inquiries on novel matters such as the spectrum auction or important aspects of it.

Look for Commissioner Pai to be in a doubting posture on spectrum auction rule-making procedures as new leadership is confirmed at the FCC. He’s been burned twice, and appears quite willing to be the whistle-blower.