FCC commissioner: No 'plan B' in auction of TV airwaves to cell carriers

Mignon Clyburn, a Democratic commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), expressed confidence in the agency's ability to execute its ambitious plan to off auction television stations' airwave licenses to cellular service providers during a C-SPAN interview.

"We have no plan B, there's a plan A. We're doing all that we can to make sure that there are market synergies, that there are market forces, that there are market opportunities that both the buyers and sellers can take advantage of," Clyburn said during a taping of C-SPAN's "The Communicators" program that will air Saturday.

Broadcasters have been skeptical of the auction process and whether many stations will actually be willing to sell their licenses. Clyburn said the auctions could be extremely beneficial to the United States and the FCC is working hard to make sure the process is underway by its 2014 deadline, so she's not concerned that wireless carriers will go to back Congress to ask for more spectrum.

"It has the opportunity to bring more spectrum into play than we've seen in 25 years, so I am not concerned. We are doing all we can to make it all that it can be," Clyburn said. "I'm not going to be speculative as to how much [spectrum] it will bring to market, but it has the potential to really put us on a firm pathway of meeting the needs of this nation by way of mobile engagement."

Still, Clyburn acknowledged that it won't be easy to set up the auction process, noting that it's "the first of its kind in the world."

With the election coming up on Tuesday, there has been a lot of speculation swirling about who will be the next chairman of the FCC if GOP challenger Mitt Romney wins the presidency, or if the current head of the commission, Julius Genachowski, departs at the start of 2013.

When asked about reports claiming that Clyburn may be tapped as acting FCC chairman if Genachowski leaves, the Democratic commissioner was coy about answering the question and simply said she "will continue to serve in any way the president and Senate deems fit."

President Obama has nominated Clyburn for a second term on the commission, but the Senate has not confirmed her appointment yet.

When asked whether she was concerned that a Republican-controlled FCC would result in the approval of more mergers, Clyburn said that how the agency and its staff evaluates mergers and processes information will not change. But she added that she's "always mindful" of what effect a "consolidated ecosystem" would have on independent voices, diversity and small communities.

Clyburn said the commission has been working around the clock after Hurricane Sandy ripped through the East Coast earlier this week, resulting in widespread power and cell phone outages. The FCC reported early on Friday that roughly 15 percent of the cell phone towers disabled by the devastating storm were out of service, down from 19 percent the day before.

"What I am seeing is, again, how co-dependent we are and how much that communications backbone, that infrastructure, how much that means, especially in times of crisis," Clyburn said. "The FCC, as I said, was all hands on, open 24/7 to ensure that wherever there were deficiencies in which we could assist, we were there."

The Democratic commissioner said it's "too early" to say whether the efforts to restore cellular service after Hurricane Sandy had improved after the last major natural disaster. However, Clyburn said initial reports appear to indicate that there were "some improvements" and "a lot of the systems worked as best as they could under these circumstances," but the FCC intends to make an overall assessment of the response efforts.