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FCC to reform wireless spectrum auction discounts for small business

Amid the partisan sparring over net neutrality at the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing Wednesday, there was one brief moment of consensus.  The FCC rules that provide discounts to small businesses in its wireless spectrum auctions are slated to be  tightened up.

Since the conclusion of the AWS spectrum auction last month,  FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai has repeatedly called out DISH for partnering with two companies to gain access to large swaths of new spectrum while claiming a $3 billion taxpayer discount, one that was designed to help small providers or new entrants.  Pai reiterated his concern and opposition during the hearing.

“I’m going to make news here,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.  “I agree with my colleague. I don’t like slick lawyers taking advantage of the rules for the benefit of big companies.  This is a problem we will solve.”

Before Wheeler made his commitment, Sens. Claire McCaskil (D-Mo.)l and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) both blasted the program. McCaskill called Dish’s strategy “outrageous.”

It isn’t clear if Wheeler is also willing to deny DISH and the two partner companies the small company discount for the AWS spectrum, as Pai had recommended, or whether the chairman’s efforts will be focused on fixing the rules for upcoming incentive auction planned for first quarter 2016.