FCC: Report & Order On Incentive Auctions by Spring

FCC incentive auction staffers outlined a timeline for action on a host of FCC incentive auction issues, but did not signal how they may be resolved.

In a presentation to the commissioners, the FCC's Incentive Auction Task Force said that by early 2015 the commission would be accepting bids from TV stations for the reverse auction and wireless companies—and perhaps others—for the forward auction.

The task force said the report and order (R&O) would provide a framework for dealing with issues including a band plan and TV station repacking but that there would be opportunity for comment and further tweaking, something FCC Chairman Wheeler emphasized in a post-meeting press conference.

Among the other issues to be at least addressed in the report and order are unlicensed operations, bid payments, reimbursement of broadcaster costs and licensing and operating rules.

The FCC also said it would increase funding for broadcaster outreach.

In their statements, Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Ajit Pai put an exclamation point on the need for that outreach. Rosenworcel even turned a familiar broadcasters phrase—about its one-to-many service—to make the point. "We do not want to hold a party and have no one show up. So our outreach to broadcasters must be more than broad—it must be targeted. One-to-many efforts are not enough. One-to-one outreach is essential."

Pai was even more blunt. "If there is not sufficient broadcaster participation in the reverse auction, the incentive auction will fail. It is as simple as that."

During the meeting, Commissioner Pai put in a plug for creating an outside panel of stakeholders to vet the repacking software the FCC will use to move TV stations after the auction, then report back to the commission, something the National Association of Broadcasters has been calling for. He also suggested NAB's help be enlisted in the expanded broadcaster outreach effort, which the task force said would start happening before the R&O is released—in response to concerns by commissioner Michael O'Rielly.

Wheeler has said the software will be tested thoroughly, and the task force chairman Gary Epstein reiterated Thursday that the auctions will not proceed until they are ready, user friendly and thoroughly tested. That will include a mock auction beforehand.

Wheeler signaled that the FCC would look favorably on the proposal by a pair of L.A. TV stations and CTIA: The Wireless Association to test channel sharing, saying he was anxious to see the results. The FCC has to first approve the test, which Epstein said the FCC would act on—which can pretty much be interpreted as "approve"—expeditiously.

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.