FCC Moves 700-MHz Auction Date to Jan. 24

The Federal Communications Commission released the rules of the road for its auction (Auction 73) of some of the reclaimed analog-broadcast spectrum, including moving the start date from Jan. 16 to Jan. 24.

That is when companies like Google and entrenched and would-be wireless networks can start bidding -- although the bidding itself will be anonymous -- on 62 megahertz worth of spectrum in the 700-MHz band that is considered prime real estate for advanced wireless services.

Congress said the auction could start no later than Jan. 28, with money to be turned over to the treasury by June to be used, in part, for first-responder communications and the DTV-to-analog converter-box-subsidy program.

The FCC said it wanted to give bidders a little more time, but could not push it to Jan. 25 or 28, as some commenters had asked, saying that was cutting it too close.

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration has already doled out some of that money, so its chief, John Kneuer, is eager to have the actual money to back the bucks the NTIA has borrowed.

The FCC set a total reserve price of about $10 billion on the spectrum, which is broken up into several blocks.

The so-called C-block spectrum -- to which the FCC attached "open-platform" conditions allowing for the attachment of various unaffiliated devices -- has a reserve of $4.63 billion. That is the swath of spectrum (TV channels 52-53, 56-58, 60-62 and 65-67) large enough to accommodate a new national wireless network in competition to existing networks.

Bidding credits will be supplied to small and "very small" businesses -- a 15% discount on the winning bid price for companies with gross revenues of $15 million-$40 million and a 25% discount for companies with gross revenues of less than $15 million.

That revenue total must include the revenues of any other entity with controlling interest in the bidder, defined as either more than 50% (de jure control) or, on a case-by-case basis, de facto control by, say, appointing more than 50% of a board of directors or playing "an integral role" in management decisions. Those are to prevent smaller companies from fronting for larger ones that want the bidding credits.

In addition, as set forth in rule changes on so-called designated-entry bidding credits, no company with a deal to resell more than 50% of its spectrum to another company can get the discount, and those with a deal to sell up to 25% to another company will have to count the revenue of that company toward the bidding credit thresholds of $15 million and $40 million.

If any of the reserve prices on the individual blocks are not met, the spectrum in that block will be reauctioned (Auction 76). If the C-block does not meet its reserve, it will be reauctioned, likely within three weeks, the FCC said, but without the open-platform conditions and not necessarily with the same geographic grouping of licenses.

The commission in its public notice outlining the procedures warned bidders against collusion and said that even statements to the press that an applicant did not intend to participate in a reauction could violate anti-collusion rules.

Bidders and interested spectators should write down these dates:

• Auction Seminar: Nov. 19;

• Auction 73 and 76 short-form application (FCC Form 175) filing window opens Nov. 19 at noon (EST);

• Auction 73 and 76 short-form application (FCC Form 175) filing window deadline: Dec. 3, prior to 6 p.m.;

• Auction 73 upfront payments (via wire transfer): Dec. 28, 6 p.m.;

• Mock auction: Jan. 18; and

• Auction 73 begins Jan. 24.

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.