The White House budget proposed last week contains an estimate of about $28 billion from auctioning federal spectrum and giving the FCC authority to conduct incentive auctions. By contrast, the CTIA – The Wireless industry Association — and the Consumer Electronic Association (CEA) have published a study showing that the FCC could raise $33 bn from an incentive auction of the broadcast bands alone. So what gives?
The short answer is that spectrum auctions are extremely hard to predict, and incentive auctions are even harder to predict because we’ve never done one before. The longer answer is that because the White House is banking on the revenue as part of the budget process with real world consequences, they have therefore hedged against uncertainty by including an easier to estimate spectrum auction. CTIA/CEA, have written an advocacy piece. As with all such pieces, it tends to accent the positive. Unfortunately, the Report fails to address some rather pivotal issues, a factor that renders it of rather limited utility for resolving what I consider the most critical question no one has answered: will enough broadcasters participate in a voluntary auction to make it happen at all. It is on this point in particular that I remain profoundly skeptical.
Fair warning, as with all spectrum policy posts, this one tends to run pretty long. Still, I’m hoping the prospect of all that money will rivet folks as I unpack the “known unknowns,” the “unknown unknowns,” and why I raise a skeptical eyebrow over the CTIA/CEA estimate below . . . .
UPDATE: As I’ve explained here, I’ve edited this article considerably to take out some unwarranted snark on my part against CTIA/CEA.