Former FCC leaders push Congress to renew auction authority

A who’s who of former FCC leaders sent a letter to the chairs of the Energy & Commerce and Commerce, Science & Transportation committees urging Congress to restore the FCC’s spectrum auction authority as soon as practicable.

“As former leaders of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), we have worked together, on a bipartisan basis, to lay the foundation for America’s global wireless leadership. Although our policy priorities at times differed, we share an understanding that central to Americans’ wireless success is the FCC’s spectrum auction authority,” the letter states.

Signatories of the letter include Ajit Pai, Tom Wheeler, Mignon Clyburn, Julius Genachowski, Meredith Atwell Baker, Robert McDowell, Deborah Taylor Tate, Jonathan Adelstein, Michael Copps, William Kennard, Harold Furchtgott-Roth, Gloria Tristani, Rachelle Chong, Susan Ness, Reed Hundt and Dick Wiley.

According to their May 23 letter, the former FCC leaders believe failure to renew the FCC’s auction authority “augurs troubling consequences.” Among other things, the delay in renewing auction authority risks ceding a global competitive advantage to other countries, particularly China. Reinstating auction authority also is vital to ensuring U.S. leadership before the upcoming World Radiocommunication Conference.

The FCC’s auction authority lapsed for the first time ever on March 9. Besides taking away the agency’s ability to conduct auctions, the lapse in auction authority means T-Mobile has been unable to get its hands on thousands of 2.5 GHz licenses that it won in last summer’s auction. The FCC decided that the loss of auction authority means the FCC can’t issue licenses. T-Mobile disagrees on that score but nevertheless filed to use the licenses on a special temporary authority (STA) basis.

Two months ago, the general counsels for former FCC Chairmen Kevin Martin, Kennard, Wheeler and Pai also penned a letter to the FCC arguing that the FCC’s authority to grant licenses awarded by auction is separate from its authority to conduct auctions. Citing the Communications Act and the agency’s past practices, they concluded the commission has ample authority to grant licenses that were already won at auction.

Fierce this week asked for CTIA’s position on the FCC’s ability to distribute licenses that are already auctioned and paid for and the organization responded with the following statement: “We continue to work with the FCC and industry on the scope of the FCC’s ability to promote wireless innovation in the absence of auction authority. The uncertainty around the issue further highlights the importance of Congress acting expeditiously to restore the FCC auction authority with a pipeline of new spectrum auctions.”

Last month, current members of the FCC – Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and Commissioners Brendan Carr, Geoffrey Starks and Nathan Simington – wrote to House and Senate leaders asking for speedy legislation reinstating the agency’s spectrum auction program. They noted that the FCC has held 100 spectrum auctions, raising more than $233 billion for the U.S. Treasury.

The Competitive Carriers Association (CCA), representing smaller carriers across the U.S., earlier this month sent a letter to Congressional leaders urging them to reauthorize the FCC’s auction authority and advance spectrum pipeline legislation.