FCC delays spectrum auction till 2015

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission announced Friday that his agency won't hold its auction of airwave licenses until the middle of 2015.

The commission had originally planned for a 2014 auction of spectrum, the frequencies that carry wireless signals. 

But in a blog post Friday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wrote that it is critical the agency avoid any technical glitches. 

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Perhaps with the botched launch of HealthCare.gov in mind, Wheeler said the FCC will "exhaustively test the operating systems and the software" before holding the auction.

"I am confident in the Commission’s ability to make the appropriate policy decisions. I am also confident that the policy challenges are only part of the picture – we must also get the enabling technology right," Wheeler wrote.

He said the agency will only start the auction when the "software and systems are technically ready, user friendly, and thoroughly tested." 

The FCC plans to buy back the licenses of some TV broadcasters for auction to the cellphone industry. The additional spectrum will help the wireless carriers meet their customers' skyrocketing demand for streaming videos, browsing the Web and downloading apps. 

The auction depends on the FCC encouraging enough broadcasters to voluntarily give up their spectrum rights. The FCC will also have to decide whether to cap the amount of spectrum that industry giants Verizon and AT&T can buy in an effort to boost competition in the industry.

The revenue from the auction will be needed to pay for a nationwide wireless network for first responders. 

"I have often defined the complexity of this multi-part simultaneous process as being like a Rubik’s cube," Wheeler wrote. He said he has spent more time working on preparing for the auction than any other issue in his first few weeks on the job. 

The lobbying associations for both the broadcasting and wireless industries issued statements applauding Wheeler for taking additional time to try to ensure a successful auction.