Wheeler Calls for Strong Bidding in Spectrum Auction

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By Lydia Beyoud

April 20 — Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler called on the wireless industry to back up its clamor for more spectrum with strong bidding in the incentive auction.

Supply and demand for spectrum voluntarily relinquished by broadcasters will dictate the duration of the auction, Wheeler said. “The wireless industry has had a constant mantra: we need spectrum, we need spectrum, we need spectrum,” he said.

Speaking April 20 at the National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas, Wheeler said the FCC would issue its spectrum optimization plan and clearance target before the end of the month.

Wheeler wouldn’t comment on how many broadcasters were participating, but said “people have shown up and you’ll see that at the end of the month.”

Wheeler declined to offer a hint of what the FCC’s clearing target would be, but said “a significant chunk of spectrum” would be available. How much the wireless carriers bid for licenses to that spectrum will reflect just how serious they are, he added.

Wheeler also sought to manage expectations about the possibility of multiple rounds of bidding. If wireless bids aren’t high enough, the FCC will conduct additional rounds until the market value of the spectrum is set, he said.

“I think that we should expect that in a market process like this, this is not a ‘one-and-done' kind of activity,” Wheeler said.

Retransmission Consent Rules

Wheeler also said that he's working to wrap up a proposal by the end of 2016 that could change rules requiring broadcasters and pay TV operators to negotiate for retransmission consent in good faith.

Wheeler said that he was in the process of working to get at least three votes on the item.

Trade groups representing pay TV providers and broadcasters have been fighting over a proposal to modify the FCC's “totality of the circumstances test” for determining whether parties are negotiating in good faith to obtain and broadcast content.

The goal of the proceeding is to ensure that negotiations are conducted fairly and in a way that benefits consumers of video programming services, the FCC said when it issued its notice of proposed rulemaking in 2015 .

To contact the reporter on this story: Lydia Beyoud in Las Vegas at lbeyoud@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com