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FCC: 2014 Incentive Auction Still on Track

The FCC indicated Friday that it was still on track for issuing an incentive auction framework by the end of the year and holding the auction in 2014. The framework includes issuing more information on TV station repacking in the coming weeks.

In a presentation to FCC commissioners at the monthly public meeting, Office of Engineering and Technology and Media Bureau representatives outlined the work done to date, and the challenges to come as the FCC tries to meet those goals.

Auction point man Gary Epstein said that progress is being made in talks with Canada and Mexico about border spectrum coordination issues, but that he did not think that would necessarily result in a treaty or agreement, but rather progress toward a "high degree of certainty" on those issues.

Office of Engineering and Technology Chief Julie Knapp defended the FCC's release of new TVStudy repacking and interference software. Broadcasters have complained that the software is flawed and illegal, saying the FCC is changing the methodology, which does not square with the incentive auction law. The FCC disagrees. Knapp said that it changes the software, not the methodology. He said the software has not been updated since 2004, is based on source code from the 1990s and is incapable of the kind of analysis that can produce a successful auction.

A Media Bureau official said that preliminary guidelines for reimbursing broadcasters for moving during repacking, and a workshop on that issue, would be coming in September.

The National Association of Broadcasters has warned that the FCC needs to get the auction right, not right now - broadcasters have said that the FCC should not be in a rush to make the 2014 deadline. But both Epstein and FCC Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn said that the FCC could both get it done and get it done right.

Epstein said that in terms of repacking, the current leading items are market variation and co-channel interference, both of which he said they anticipate resolving by this fall. The two are related. In order for the FCC to adopt the variable approach to reclaiming spectrum - reclaiming different amounts in different markets - it will need to be able to put TV stations and wireless operators on the same or nearby channels in adjacent markets.

Other highlights:

  • The FCC plans to hold a mock auction before the real one.
  • Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel recommended that the commission create a pilot program for channel sharing, using either commercial or noncommercial stations.
  • The Media Bureau plans to issue a public notice in the fall on issues related to broadcasters transition issues, including reimbursement.
  • The FCC plans to release a single order on the auction, rather than breaking it out into separate pieces.