At the urging of House leaders who objected to what they termed as the FCC’s “eleventh hour” release of data connected with the potential repacking of broadcast TV licensees in the “duplex gap,” the FCC withdrew from the agenda of yesterday’s open meeting a draft public notice outlining application, bidding and other procedures for the incentive auction. The FCC also withdrew a draft order on reconsideration in the mobile spectrum holdings proceeding that had also appeared on the agenda. Votes on both items have been rescheduled tentatively for August 6.
In a letter delivered to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Tuesday, House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and House Communications & Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) protested the FCC’s release of “limited simulation” data late last Friday outlining possible scenarios for reassignment of TV stations in the duplex gap that opt to remain on the air. To accommodate public input on the late-released data, the agency also lifted restrictions against the filing of comments in the week preceding FCC open meetings. Nevertheless, Upton and Walden criticized both actions as “significant departures from Commission procedure” that “raise concerns as to the public’s ability to meaningfully comment on the data as well as the ability of the commissioners to vote.” Fearing these actions could “[cast] a shadow over an innovative and novel auction that could be this commission’s legacy,” Upton and Walden thus called on Wheeler to “remedy this error in process by delaying the commission vote.” As he informed Upton and Walden of his decision to postpone the vote, Wheeler insisted that commencement of the incentive auction during the first quarter of 2016 remains on track.