FCC Takes First Step Toward Organizing Spectrum Auctions

Genachowski names task force for years-long process

Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, took the first step today toward conducting incentive spectrum auctions, naming a task force that will be headed by Ruth Milkman, the FCC's special counsel to the chairman for innovation in government.

Spectrum auctions have been seen as a must in order to meet an ever-growing consumer demand for mobile wireless services.

Congress authorized the FCC to conduct incentive auctions of spectrum in February with the passage of the payroll tax extension package. The auction of spectrum voluntarily relinquished by broadcasters is expected to bring in as much as $15 billion to offset the deficit.

The task force has its work cut out for it to both maximize the amount of spectrum that can be allocated to mobile services and sort out the repacking of broadcast TV stations in a smaller segment of the radio band. It's a process that's expected to take five to eight years.

"Incentive auctions are a big idea," Genachowski said during the FCC's monthly meeting. "The task will be complex and challenging. Incentive auctions are unprecedented. We'll see an implementation process that is inclusive and participatory, guided by economics and engineering that will seek to maximize the opportunity to unleash investment innovation and competitiveness."

"These will be the most complex auctions in the history of the world," added commissioner Robert McDowell, who looked at Milkman and said, "Your team will have no personal lives for the next few years."

Just how much spectrum the FCC will have for auction is the big question. TV broadcasters have not been forthcoming about giving up spectrum, particularly as the industry works to offer multiple channels and roll out mobile digital TV.

Genachowski is already lowering expectations that the FCC will be able to auction off as much spectrum as originally called for in the agency's two-year-old National Broadband Plan.

"We don't have an estimate [for how much spectrum will be auctions]," Genachowski told reporters following the meeting. "I've expressed concerns that the legislation contains provisions that will constrain us from maximizing the amount of spectrum recovered," he said, blaming Congress.

Other members of the task force include representatives across the FCC's various bureaus.