Editorial: Dollars and Sense

The FCC and broadcasters have teamed up to set a high bar for clearing out all that broadcast TV spectrum being repurposed.

The first-ever two-sided FCC spectrum auction resulted in an $88 billion price tag that could be tough to cover in the forward auction.

The FCC is not releasing any information about bidders or markets until after the auction closes, but that figure is likely a combination of stations frozen at their opening bids—some estimates have been as high as $40 billion in initial freezes—and broadcasters refusing to bid themselves down to a bargain-basement price.

There remain more question marks than exclamation points in the auction. How much will wireless companies bid for the spectrum? Will the auction close after one round—which now seems unlikely—or extend to at least one further reverse round, followed by a second forward auction? How long will all that take?

If there is one thing markets don’t like, it’s uncertainty. Having gotten this spectrum auction boulder rolling, the FCC cannot do much to change its path or timetable.

But one thing the FCC can and should do to help broadcasters plan for their future is to give them the green light to start rolling out the new ATSC 3.0 transmission standard so they can make the most out of whatever spectrum is left post-auction. Broadcasters want an answer by Oct. 1. They should get it by then, and it should be ‘yes.’