Editorial: First Things First

Wheeler’s priority should be incentive auction

When Tom Wheeler gets settled in at the FCC, the new
commission chairman’s obvious priority will be to get an incentive auction framework out the
door. Our guess is the auction deadline
will slip to 2015, given that the FCC has
two other auctions to conduct in 2014.

If the FCC doesn’t want to push
the auction back to give broadcasters
sufficient time to decide whether they
want to participate, it could always cite
the government shutdown and the lost
time and person-power that occurred.
That has already caused the agency to
delay the start of the H block auction
for a couple of weeks — so far.

Another priority topping the stack on
Wheeler’s desk should be completing
the FCC’s 2010 media ownership review
before the commission has to start the
2014 review and before, preferably long
before, it auctions any spectrum. The
FCC did not make that easy, last week
saying it will launch a study on Hispanic
ownership and programming diversity.
The study is a perfectly fine thing, except
that it will be tough politically to take
any action on media ownership until that
study is completed and vetted, which
will take many months. (Since this is
the FCC we’re talking about, you might
want to add another “many.”)

Most observers don’t see action on
ownership in the near term, which is a
shame because the near term is when
broadcasters need help deciding to fish
or cut bait, auction-wise. Knowing how
competitive the FCC will allow them
to be is a key deciding factor.