FCC Names New Chief Economist

Wharton professor recently co-authored paper on TV station auction 'rent-seeking'
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FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has named Katja Seim as the FCC's new chief economist. She recently co-authored a study, Ownership Concentration and Strategic Supply Reduction, on the impacts of multiple station ownership on the spectrum auction and suggesting how the FCC could have structured TV station participation to try and prevent rent-seeking as the result of strategic bidding by owners of multiple stations.

Seim is associate professor of business economics and public policy at Wharton and has written about and conducted research on ownership concentration, phone and online market entry. She also recently co-authored a study of the TV station incentive auction, concluding multiple TV station owners—including privacy equity firms heavying up for the auction—could strategically withhold some licenses to drive up the closing prices for their other stations.

The paper suggested one possible remedy could have been to force broadcasters to either put all their stations in the auction, or none at all.  

At least one analyst has predicted the FCC may have already had to pay some $40 billion in initial bid prices due to the scarcity of key stations in major population centers where it most needs spectrum. The auction began May 31.

The auction study also colorfully likens the TV station repack after the auction, concentrating TV stations in lower spectrum to create unimpaired blocks for wireless, to defragging a hard drive.

The chief economist is a member of the FCC Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis and reports to the chairman directly.

Seim is taking over for Jonathan Levy, FCC deputy chief economist, who returns to that post after having served as chief economist.

Levy was named acting chief economist in January, filling in for exiting chief economist David Waterman, who left after a little over a year in the post.

Seim got her Ph.D. in Economics from Yale and teaches Managerial Economics in the MBA program at Wharton and an undergraduate course in public policy design and regulation. Before Wharton, she taught at Stanford's business school.  

Among her specific topics of study are also "consumer adoption of online services" and "consumer choice among the commonly offered nonlinear pricing plans for such services," according to Wharton.

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