Keeping Tally to Itself

Wheeler has not released aggregate number of stations that have applied for spectrum auction

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FCC chairman Tom Wheeler can release an aggregate number for the stations that have applied to participate in the coming spectrum auction. But so far he has signaled he won’t do so despite support for that release, or at least serious consideration, from both a Democratic and Republican member of the commission.

In a recent interview with C-SPAN, Republican FCC commissioner Ajit Pai said that, like Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel, he would have no trouble with the FCC making public an aggregate number of stations that had applied to potentially participate in the incentive auction by the Jan. 12 deadline.

“If the chairman decided to release that information in an anonymized form, that is not something that would raise competitive concerns. And so, if it helps illuminate another aspect of the incentive auction that the public would be interested in, then that is an important conversation to have,” Pai said.

The FCC has signaled it was not releasing that data. There was nothing in the incentive auction legislation preventing the disclosure, though it added that it has been FCC practice historically not to publish the number of auction applications.

The aggregate number would give the public some sense of how much initial interest there was in the auction, and thus how much spectrum the FCC could try to reclaim—it has band plans for a low of 42 MHz to a high of 126 MHz. The closest the FCC has come was a statement from Gary Epstein, chief of the incentive auction task force, after the application window closed, saying the FCC was “very encouraged by the interest expressed by broadcast licensees.”

“I think we should be transparent about what is taking place and release aggregated or anonymized data about broadcaster interest,” Rosenworcel told B&C. “This will give the public a better sense of auction interest and a better sense of the changes coming to this spectrum band.”

The FCC may not have a statutory prohibition on publishing the figure, but it has a statutory duty to protect the confidentiality of participants and the flexibility to choose how to do so.