WASHINGTON, June 19, 2013 – Under questioning from the Senate Commerce Committee during a confirmation hearing to be chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Tom Wheeler said spectrum auctions need to be designed to provide incentives for broadcasters to sell, and carriers to bid, on prime wireless frequencies.
Upcoming spectrum auctions were one of the most frequently asked subjects on senators’ minds. Wheeler’s responses centered on the idea that while raising revenue was important, incentives for industry players are crucial.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., asked specifically about placing limits on spectrum aggregation by larger carriers. Wheeler did not voice support for such restrictions. He did say, however, that the FCC had a responsibility to protect competition, including smaller players.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, also asked about minimizing federal use of spectrum. Wheeler affirmed his support of President Barack Obama’s recently-announced initiative designed to more efficiently use federal spectrum.
In his opening statement, Committee Chairman John Rockefeller, D-W.V., focused on the FirstNet public safety network and providing better broadband connections to schools through the eRate and ConnectED programs. He also emphasized the importance of the chairman as a protector of consumers.
“The FCC chairman must be more than the arbiter of industry interests,” Rockefeller said. “You must use the vast statutory authority to advocate for the public interest, the consumer, the parent, the student.”
Rockefeller said during the hearing that he believed Wheeler’s confirmation was a certainty.
In his own opening statement, Wheeler addressed many of Rockefeller’s concerning, particularly in terms of education.
“It doesn’t make sense that 80 percent of e-Rate schools report the available bandwidth is below their instructional needs,” said Wheeler.
Wheeler also acknowledged that the commission’s role is to promote competition, not dictate the market.
“Competitive markets produce better outcomes than regulated or uncompetitive markets,” he said.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., questioned Wheeler about his stance on how the FCC should approach merger reviews. Wheeler recommended a careful examination of the unique facts, laws and precedents in each situation.
“What a regulator must deal with are the realities of a specific case and the law and precedent that deals with merger review,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler also outlined his goals for broadband in America. His three-point plan includes extension of broadband access, expansion of technology that improves broadband speed and quality and exploitation of broadband’s benefits.
“Federal government should be efficiently using spectrum to the point where it uses the minimal amount of spectrum to do its job,” Wheeler said.
Although the exact timing for Wheeler’s confirmation has not yet been announced, Rockefeller stated that he believed that the confirmation was a certainty.