At a spectrum policy event on Tuesday, FCC Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Robert McDowell offered their views on a variety of topics, ranging from incentive auctions of broadcast television spectrum, to reassignment of federal spectrum assets for commercial wireless use, to the reliability of wireless networks in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which rendered inoperable one in four cell sites in affected areas throughout the East Coast. The Washington, D.C. event was sponsored by the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology and Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado, with the backing of wireless association CTIA and Public Knowledge. In opening remarks, Rosenworcel cited the rate of cell site failure during Sandy in admitting that the FCC “owes the public an honest accounting of the resiliency of our nation’s network infrastructure.” While lauding the collaborative efforts of wireless carriers in restoring service and in making their respective networks available to each others’ customers without charge, Rosenworcel told her audience, “it is time to ask hard questions about back-up power, and how to make our networks more dependable when we need them most.” She hinted that the FCC should revisit rules requiring eight hours of back-up power at cell sites and 24 hours of back-up power at central offices that were enacted in response to Hurricane Katrina but scrapped by the agency in 2008. With respect to incentive auctions, Rosenworcel called for fairness in the treatment of broadcasters who choose not to participate and in considering how to accomplish channel repacking “by minimizing unnecessary disruption.” Rosenworcel also advocated for “a series of incentives to serve as the catalyst” for the identification of federal spectrum be repurposed for commercial use, suggesting that agencies might be more willing to relocate if they were rewarded for efficient spectrum use or were “able to reclaim a portion of the revenue from the subsequent re-auction of their airwaves.”

Meanwhile, while agreeing that “there’s a lot to learn” from Hurricane Sandy, Commissioner McDowell told the audience that he hopes no one will use Sandy “as a pretext” for imposing new regulations on wireless carriers. McDowell also reiterated his call for the Obama Administration to push for identification of federal spectrum that can be reallocated for commercial use. Echoing Rosenworcel’s sentiments on incentives to prod cost-effective relocation of government spectrum users, McDowell quipped: “if sticks aren’t working, try carrots.”