Give the market a chance in FCC’s sale of airwaves

When it comes to bringing transparency and efficiency to America’s spectrum policy there comes a point when we need to stop “studying” and start “delivering” for the American people. By the middle of 2015, the American people may finally have some access to the spectrum they demand as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) starts its auction process as required by Congress.

Americans have watched for decades as the FCC has continually mismanaged this vital resource. As our tech sector continues to flourish and bring new content to mobile devices, the use and demand for spectrum will increase. Consider this: The United States is home to 5 percent of the world’s population and 50 percent of the world’s LTE customers. That means we need to unleash more spectrum for private commercial uses and find more efficient ways of utilizing this limited resource.

The challenge of how to effectively manage the nation’s airwaves will continue as our children and grandchildren become users of mobile devices at younger ages than in the past. A 2013 Pew Research Center Internet and American Life Project found that 78 percent of children between the ages of 12 to 17 own mobile phones.

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While the need for additional spectrum couldn’t be any greater, I’m concerned that when the FCC is left to its own devices it routinely finds ways to impose unnecessary and harmful conditions on auctions. That’s why it’s important for Congress to pay closer attention to the process so we can verify that the FCC isn’t picking winners and losers in the marketplace.

I agree with FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai that the FCC should not try to impose limits on carriers’ ability to participate in the upcoming auction by setting a spectrum cap or by narrowing the spectrum screen, or gerrymandering the way spectrum is counted despite the significant competition that exists in the wireless market. Limiting competition will result in less revenue, less innovation, and less economic growth. Determining which entities can participate in an auction is tantamount to picking winners and losers in the marketplace, something neither Congress nor the FCC should do.

However, if we stick to free market principles we can help meet consumer demand, reduce the deficit, facilitate capital investment, increase job growth, and encourage innovation.

I think we can all agree that the auction process that lies before the FCC is complicated.  However, that’s certainly not a reason to turn it into a bureaucratic science fair project.  We need an auction process that provides sufficient spectrum, eliminates barriers or any delays to the deployment of infrastructure, and refrains from imposing regulation where it’s not needed. The process should be transparent and the FCC should be held accountable.

It’s time to reject the FCC’s failed central planning of spectrum that it has relied on in the past and level the playing field for all participants. All mobile providers should have the opportunity to participate in spectrum auctions. We know the auctions won’t be fair or efficient if the FCC uses the auction process to further its regulatory agenda.

In addition to getting the auctions right we need to do a better job getting the federal users of spectrum to get engaged and help us address consumer demand for commercial spectrum uses. Likewise, we need the FCC to be more responsive to those who request approval for uses of new technologies in the marketplace.

The solution to our spectrum policy is simple: put our faith in the free market, instead of big government, to help foster competition, growth, and innovation. That has always been my guiding philosophy and perhaps one day big government liberals and FCC bureaucrats will learn the value of relying on market forces, rather than bureaucratic assumptions.


Blackburn has represented Tennessee’s 7th Congressional District since 2003. She sits on the Energy and Commerce and the Budget committees.