FCC Pushes Spectrum Waiver Decision to End of Year

Published May 31, 2016

The Federal Communications Commission voted to delay approval of DISH Network’s plan to convert existing 2 GHz spectrum to build a terrestrial 4G LTE mobile-broadband network. DISH Network requested in March the FCC waive its rulemaking process, but the agency declined, saying it expected to conclude the process by the end of the year.

DISH, which owns much of the spectrum, had hoped to launch its own wireless carrier after converting the spectrum for a next-generation 4G mobile-broadband network. The FCC’s timeframe is too long, says DISH chairman Charlie Ergen, who stated publicly the delay makes it difficult for the company to compete with other providers that have already begun building 4G long-term evolution networks.

John Stephenson, director of the Telecommunications and Information Technology Task Force at the American Legislative Exchange Council, says the FCC’s decision to stall the waiver is killing potential jobs and investments and creating more market uncertainty.

‘Inefficiency and Unintended Consequences’
Stephenson said the FCC should let the market decide by allowing DISH to proceed with its buildout with its own converted spectrum.

“History teaches us that when government tries to substitute what it views as its better judgment for that of the market on the use of a resource like spectrum, the result is often delay, inefficiency, and unintended consequences. I’m hopeful the FCC can work to avoid that outcome this time around,” Stephenson said.

Steven Titch, a policy analyst working primarily on telecommunications, the Internet, and new media at the Reason Foundation, says the delay is the result of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski wanting to set the terms for wireless competition.

“Despite the fact that the market is trying its best to overcome the affects of the spectrum crunch—a beast of the FCC’s own creation—the commission seems bent on frustrating industry attempt to remedy it, be it the AT&T/T-Mobile merger, the Verizon deal for cable spectrum, or DirecTV’s attempt to enter the wireless sector,” he said.

“Like a true central planner, Genachowski wants the right to put a government stamp of approval on any new entrant to the wireless business, no matter how long this takes and how badly it affects consumers,” Titch concluded.

Plodding and Politicized
Devon Herrick, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis, a public policy think tank located in Dallas, said the FCC seems overly cautious in deciding to delay approval of the waiver.

“Although many industry insiders believe the FCC may ultimately grant DISH’s waiver, the delay will add additional costs that may inhibit other competitors from entering the market,” Herrick said.

Consultant and author Larry Downes says the DISH proceedings highlight the growing chasm between the needs of mobile consumers and what he characterizes as the FCC’s plodding and often politicized processes for spectrum management.

“If the mobile revolution is to continue without interruption, Congress will have to make radical changes to how the agency operates,” Downes said.

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.