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Editorial: How Does 2016 Sound?

Commercial broadcasters that want to keep their spectrum and retain a business afterward have issues with the way the FCC has designed the framework for the incentive auctions. The same goes for broadcasters who may want to give up spectrum at the right price. And noncommercial broadcasters as well.

They have all either asked the FCC to rethink various elements, or have asked the courts to step in.

So as one B&C reader, after a series of stories on those challenges—emailed, quite simply: “2016?”

That is a reference to the FCC’s current plan to hold the auction in mid-2015, and whether, given those challenges and the fact that the days are dwindling down to a precious few before mid-2015—as in nine months from now—the FCC should leave some wiggle room to push the date. Technically, the auction and repacking don’t have to be completed until 2022, and by statute the commission gets only one shot at holding a broadcast incentive auction.

The FCC plans at the end of this month to try to reassure broadcasters about its interest in their coverage areas and its plan to vote that it will make “all reasonable efforts” to preserve those areas.

The problem is, the incentive auction statute already requires those “all reasonable efforts.” What broadcasters are worried about is all the room for interpretation the FCC can find in that statement, or—in the case of calculating interference—seems already to have found to broadcasters’ detriment.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler earlier this month told B&C that he did not want to be held to a specific date on the calendar regarding new network neutrality rules. “We want to make a decision based upon the record and based upon the work that has been done in the interim,” he said. “And we’ll let the decision set its own timing.”

That should apply to the incentive auction as well.