This week at CTIA 2013, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel presented ten ideas for spectrum policy. Though I don’t agree with all of them, she articulated a reasonable vision for spectrum policy that prioritizes consumer demand, incorporates market-oriented solutions, and establishes transparent goals and timelines. Commissioner Rosenworcel’s principled approach stands in stark contrast to the intellectually bankrupt incentive auction recommendation offered by the Department of Justice last month.
Commissioner Rosenworcel clearly defines three simple goals for a successful incentive auction:
- Raising enough revenue to support the nation’s first interoperable, wireless broadband public safety network;
- Making more broadband spectrum available through policies that are attractive to broadcasters; and
- Providing fair treatment to those broadcasters who do not wish to participate in the auction.
All three goals are consistent with consumer demand for wireless broadband services, the market-oriented reassignment of broadcast spectrum envisioned by the National Broadband Plan, and the will of Congress.
In comparison, the DOJ’s recommendation focuses on only one goal: Subsidizing two particular companies – Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile – to ensure they obtain spectrum in the auction. The DOJ claims these subsidies are necessary to promote competition. But, there is a substantial difference between fair government policies that promote competition generally and a policy of favoring foreign-owned companies over their domestic competitors.
Unfortunately, the DOJ is not alone in its belief that bestowing government benefits on favored companies is a legitimate goal in a free society. Some members of the House Commerce Committee believe the DOJ’s past merger reviews provide “a solid factual and analytical basis” for its current recommendation to the FCC.
The fatal flaw in this theory is that the DOJ’s recommendation to the FCC is inconsistent with the factual findings and analysis of the DOJ in its past merger reviews. As I’ve noted previously, in its complaint against the AT&T/T-Mobile merger, the DOJ found that, “due to the advantages arising from their scope and scale of coverage,” Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile are “especially well-positioned to drive competition” in the wireless industry. That finding doesn’t provide any factual or analytical basis whatsoever to conclude that Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile require special government treatment in the incentive auction in order to compete with Verizon and AT&T.
That’s why the DOJ recommendation relies on an irrational and discriminatory presumption that Verizon and AT&T are using spectrum less efficiently than Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile. A speculative presumption doesn’t require the DOJ to admit its own deceit. It merely requires audacity.
In an era when government officials routinely revise the facts to suit their preferred outcomes and disclaim responsibility for the actions of the agencies they’re charged with leading, Commissioner Rosenworcel’s speech required intellectual bravery and political courage. Her ideas deserve a fair hearing.