FCC Aiming to Complete Auction by Q3 2016

The FCC Tuesday began walking everyone through the application for the reverse (broadcaster) portion of the upcoming incentive auction, which Incentive Auction Task Force chairman Gary Epstein was predicting would be wrapped up—both reverse and forward portions—by third-quarter 2016.

At a workshop on the process of applying to put TV station spectrum into the auction—the application window opened Tuesday—FCC staffers walked participants through the form, repeatedly pointed out that while broadcasters who completed their application by the Jan. 12 deadline would not have to put spectrum into the auction, those that did not apply would have no, as in "never," chance to do so.

Epstein pointed out that there were only 113 days until that March 29 deadline, adding: "Once you leave here today, you are on the clock." Another staffer later advised broadcasters to file their initial applications early—preferably "well before Christmas," which would obviously mean very soon.

Depending on the station, broadcasters have a number of options for participation: give up spectrum and get of business, share a channel, move down the dial. The other option is not to participate at all.

After the Jan. 12 deadline, the FCC will send out a confidential status letter, including, importantly, whether the application was filled out correctly. If notm there will be a grace period for correcting errors. Those with everything correct the first time, and those who correct initial problems, will have until March 29 to confirm they are participating and elect which options—giving up spectrum, sharing, moving to a new channel, they are selecting.

After March 29, those selections cannot be changed. Staffers made that point repeatedly, at least suggesting having more options going into the auction was a good thing.

Among the other takeaways were that while the FCC had no projections on how many TV station owners would apply, from its meetings and road shows in the run-up to the auction, there was a lot of interest, said Epstein, both from broadcasters and the wireless companies—and others—bidding for the reclaimed spectrum in the forward auction.

In the Q&A portion of the workshop, Epstein was asked how long the auction would last. He said it would depend on how many rounds the FCC would need and other factors, but as a general guideline, he said that 3-4 weeks after the March 29 election deadline, the FCC would release its initial clearing target and band plan. The reverse portion of the auction length depends on whether it can clear enough spectrum at that initial target, or must recalculate and continue the bidding. Epstein predicted that portion of the auction could take several weeks. The forward auction he predicted could take a couple of months.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.