Pai: FCC Should Let Marketplace Decide Price of Auctioned TV Spectrum

Also Says Commission Should Embrace Broadcast/Wireless 'Down from 51' Band Plan Proposal

FCC commissioner Ajit Pai told a CTIA audience in Las Vegas this week that if the FCC tries to set "initial offers" for broadcast stations in the reverse spectrum auction, it should not do so based on the population it serves or the value of its station business.

With that, he is speaking the language of the Preston Padden-led Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition, a group of stations looking to sell spectrum for the right price.

"[I]f we do establish 'initial offers' (to use the terminology of a descending clock auction), they need to be high enough to encourage participation and they have to be based on relevant criteria. The word 'relevant' is important here. The incentive auction is about purchasing spectrum, or more specifically interference rights. It is not about buying broadcast stations," Pai said.

Pai also said that the FCC should release its methodology for repacking TV stations after the auction ASAP and embrace the "down from 51" band plan proposed by the National Association of Broadcasters and wireless companies.

"Particularly when it comes to developing our band plan and repacking methodology, we must deal with the world the way that it is, not as we might wish it were. This means putting ideology and politics aside and concentrating instead on the simple question of what will work from an engineering perspective," he said.

Broadcasters have argued that from that engineering perspective, the "down from 51" plan that does not intermingle broadcast and wireless spectrum is the way to go to avoid interference. The FCC's wireless bureau has suggested that is an insufficiently flexible approach.

"[I]t is time for the Commission to move on from the NPRM and embrace the consensus 'down from Channel 51' proposal," he said.

Pai also called on the FCC to release its repacking software, which will help find new spectrum homes for broadcasters after the auction. "Carriers and broadcasters have said, and I agree, that stakeholders need an adequate opportunity to review and comment on this software in the near term," he said. "So, completing our development of that software and releasing it in the coming months needs to be one of our top priorities, if not the top priority."

Pai called on broadcasters and the FCC to get together on the OET-69 station methodology for calculating coverage areas and interference potentials in that repacking. "This is an important topic," he said, "but not one we can afford to spend much more time on. That's why I've encouraged the broadcast and wireless industries to come together and work on a mutually acceptable compromise."

He says broadcasters should not stand in the way of updates that would allow the software to work better and include more recent census data. "If the wireless and broadcast industries approach this task with the same cooperative spirit they have shown in working on the 600 MHz band plan, I'm confident that they can get this done," he said.

That may take some doing. Broadcasters have argued that the FCC's proposed OET-69 changes are illegal.