Council Tree Investors, Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission, No. 15-3754 (3d Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
In 1993, Congress amended the Communications Act, 47 U.S.C. 151–622, to allow the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to grant electromagnetic spectrum licenses through a system of competitive bidding. The Act requires the FCC to pursue objectives required by statute, including promoting economic opportunity and competition and ensuring that new and innovative technologies are readily accessible to the American people by avoiding excessive concentration of licenses and by disseminating licenses among a wide variety of applicants, including small businesses, rural telephone companies, and businesses owned by members of minority groups and women (designated entities or “DEs”). The FCC’s principal means of fulfilling the statutory objectives for DEs is to confer bidding credits upon small and rural businesses that participate in FCC auctions. Bidding credits operate as a discount on the spectrum DEs purchase, allowing them sometimes to outbid companies that make higher bids. In 2015, the FCC issued a rule indicating that it would cap credits available in future auctions. The Third Circuit concluded the FCC acted legally when it limited the bidding credits available to DEs. The Order: preserved a significant bidding credit program; reviewed data suggesting DE participation would continue despite the proposed caps; and altered other rules to make DEs more competitive.