” . . . the cooperative process envisioned by the National Broadband Plan is at risk of shifting to the traditionally contentious band plan process that has delayed spectrum auctions in the past.”
The National Broadband Plan proposed a new way to reassign reallocated spectrum. The Plan noted that, “Contentious spectrum proceedings can be time-consuming, sometimes taking many years to resolve, and incurring significant opportunity costs.” It proposed “shifting [this] contentious process to a cooperative one” to “accelerate productive use of encumbered spectrum” by “motivating existing licensees to voluntarily clear spectrum through incentive auctions.” Congress implemented this recommendation through legislation requiring the FCC to transition additional broadcast spectrum to mobile use through a voluntary incentive auction process rather than traditional FCC mandates.
Among other things, the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking initiating the broadcast incentive auction proceeding proposed a “lead” band plan approach and several alternative options, including the “down from 51” approach. An overwhelming majority of broadcasters, wireless providers, equipment manufacturers, and consumer groups rejected the “lead” approach and endorsed the alternative “down from 51” approach. This remarkably broad consensus on the basic approach to the band plan promised to meet the goals of the National Broadband Plan by accelerating the proceeding and motivating voluntary participation in the auction.
That promise was broken when the FCC’s Wireless Bureau unilaterally decided to issue a Public Notice seeking additional comment on a variation of the FCC’s “lead” proposal as well as a TDD approach to the band plan. The Bureau issued this notice over the objection of FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who issued a separate statement expressing his concern that seeking comment on additional approaches to the band plan when there is a “growing consensus” in favor of the “down from 51” approach could unnecessarily delay the incentive auction. This statement “peeved” Harold Feld, Senior Vice President at Public Knowledge, who declared that there is no consensus and that the “down from 51” plan would be a “disaster.” As a result, the cooperative process envisioned by the National Broadband Plan is at risk of shifting to the traditionally contentious band plan process that has delayed spectrum auctions in the past. Continue reading →