FCC chairman Tom Wheeler made the right decision by moving the broadcast incentive auction from mid-2015 to at least early 2016. We added the “at least,” because nothing is set in stone, and shouldn’t be.
B&C had suggested the auction date could push a bit to make sure the FCC gets it right, so we were glad the FCC saw it that way, too. We wish the commission had not scapegoated broadcasters for making the move, however.
The National Association of Broadcasters and Sinclair independently sued the FCC over the auction and, yes, the timing of that court case would have made it difficult to proceed with a mid-2015 auction, especially if the FCC lost. But if the FCC lost, the auction should not have been proceeding anyway because that means its framework was flawed. And either way, given that broadcasters’ future is tied up in how the auction preserves, or doesn’t preserve, their coverage areas and interference protections, if broadcasters felt the auction as it was proceeding threatened that future, it is not obstructionist to try to repair the mast before the ship sails.
But court brief schedules and oral arguments are not the only reason to delay the auction.
The FCC has conceded on more than one occasion that this is the most complicated auction undertaking it, and probably any other agency, has tried. There are two auctions, linked, with the need to adjust them in real time.
It was not hyperbole to describe the auction, as one FCC official did, as a Rubik’s cube of a puzzle.
With the shift now made, the commission should treat the extra time as an opportunity to cross some more t’s, perhaps by resolving some of the broader issues. That would be a nice going-away present for the retiring senior statesman of the Congress, Rep. John Dingell (DMich.), who has been for years pressing the FCC to resolve those issues to ensure there will be some spectrum left for stations in Detroit after the auction.
The FCC has until 2022 to complete the auction and repacking of stations. A few more months of work on this end can’t hurt, and will likely help get the auction right, rather than simply done.