FCC Resets Incentive Auction for Early 2016

The FCC has recalibrated its incentive auction timetable, pushing the timetable to early 2016 given "undeniable impediments" to the mid-2015 time frame, including the briefing and argument schedule for broadcaster challenges to the auction.

Gary Epstein, the FCC's auction point person, called it a brief delay but suggested it was a necessary one.

"Earlier this week, the court issued a briefing schedule in which the final briefs are not due until late January 2015," Epstein blogged in the last paragraph of a Friday post tabbed a "progress report." burying the lead of the new date. "Oral arguments will follow at a later date yet to be determined, with a decision not likely until mid-2015. We are confident we will prevail in court, but given the reality of that schedule, the complexity of designing and implementing the auction, and the need for all auction participants to have certainty well in advance of the auction, we now anticipate accepting applications for the auction in the fall of 2015 and starting the auction in early 2016. Despite this brief delay, we remain focused on the path to successfully implementing the incentive auction."

Both the National Association of Broadcasters and Sinclair challenged parts (NAB) or the entirety (Sinclair) of the auction framework issued in May.

Epstein said the FCC would continue to meet with broadcasters to pitch the value of volunteering spectrum.

NAB didn't like having the lawsuits tagged as the culprits in the move, though it has been saying there was not need to rush the auction, saying it was better to get it done right than get it done fast.

"Given its complexity, there is good reason Congress gave the FCC 10 years to complete the proceeding [until 2022]," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. "We reject suggestions that our narrowly focused lawsuit is cause for delay. We look forward to a speedy resolution of our legal challenge and a successful auction that preserves access to free and local TV for every American."

CTIA: The Wireless Association, which has said it needs spectrum ASAP, was criticizing the move.

"Given the number of reports that show a continued and significant increase in consumer demand for mobile broadband access, the wireless industry needs spectrum as soon as practicable so that it may continue to serve as the world's leader and meet Americans' demands for anytime, anywhere service to live their connected lives," said VP of regulatory affairs Scott Bergmann. "While any delay in spectrum auctions is unfortunate, we appreciate the thoughtful focus the FCC has brought to this complex auction to ensure it is conducted properly to the benefit of all Americans. Today's action underscores the need to resolve the pending litigation over the FCC's rules expeditiously. When the auction is held, mobile companies will have their checkbooks ready to participate in this critical auction that will be key to our nation's wireless future."

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.