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House commerce leaders slam FCC auction rules

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.)

Add House commerce committee leaders to the growing list of disappointed GOP commissioners, industries and groups that find the Federal Communications Commission’s incentive auction procedures, adopted Thursday in a party-line vote, well short of the mark.

“Three years ago, Congress put its faith in the FCC to tackle a monumental task: an incentive auction that benefits broadcasters, wireless broadband, and consumers. It appears that faith was misplaced. As Chairman Wheeler derides critics as focusing on the worst-case scenario,our concern is far more troubling — that the plan adopted today loses sight of producing the best-case scenario,” House commerce chairman Fred Upton (Mich.) and communications and technology subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (Ore.) said in a statement.

The vote on the incentive auction procedures marks a critical milestone towards holding the most complex auction in history. The procedures will serve as the blueprint for the amount of spectrum to be cleared, the level of interference to be tolerated, bid prices for TV station spectrum voluntarily relinquished, and what will happen to stations that choose to stay in business when the auction is done.

Walden and Upton, two lawmakers that wrote the law that authorized the auction, accuse the agency of caring more about the auction than about the outcome.

“The plan the FCC adopted today assumes that it is more important to minimize payments to participating broadcasters and maximize the number of licenses sold rather than to produce high-quality outcomes for both industries. It is beyond belief that the FCC would go down the path of accepting inferior licenses for broadcasters and wireless providers when it doesn’t have to. Once the FCC has reached a level of band pollution that it considers acceptable, their system simply stops trying to make it better,” the lawmakers said.

Walden and Upton also criticized the procedures for displacing unlicensed and wireless microphone procedures, for devaluing the remaining broadcast licenses, and for potentially marooning broadcasters in the 600MHz band.

“It’s hard to see how the FCC’s approach could be in the public interest when it unnecessarily shortchanges everyone involved – including taxpayers,” concluded the statement.