You’re hearing a big sigh of relief from broadcasters today. New FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a blog post that he wants to postpone the voluntary auction that will enable wireless broadband providers to use airwaves now controlled by TV stations. It originally was planned for 2014, but Wheeler says he believes “we can conduct a successful auction in the middle of 2015.” It’s easy to imagine that his decision was influenced by the troubled web rollout for the Affordable Care Act. “I have often defined the complexity of this multi-part simultaneous [auction] process as being like a Rubik’s cube,” Wheeler says. “As part of our auction system development, we will check and recheck the auction software and system components against the auction requirements, and under a variety of scenarios replicating real life conditions. … Only when our software and systems are technically ready, user friendly, and thoroughly tested, will we start the auction.” Wheeler also has to make a controversial policy decision about whether the government should limit how much spectrum might go to wireless giants Verizon and AT&T.
Previous FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski wanted to move quickly, saying that there’s an urgent need to help wireless broadband following the exploding sales of smartphones and mobile computing devices. Wheeler agrees that this is an “important national interest.” He adds, though, that “we have but one chance to get the incentive auction right.” The change works for National Association of Broadcasters CEO Gordon Smith, who has scoffed at the claim that there’s a burning need to redeploy the spectrum now used for TV. The lobby group “has long maintained, given the complexity of the auction and its many moving parts, the most important goal is to get the auction done right,” he says. Wells Fargo Securities’ Marci Ryvicker says that the delay helps “those with unused spectrum” including Dish Network and “gives the broadcasters more information to determine their likelihood of participation.”