FCC: Spectrum Auction Will Start March 29

The FCC says the spectrum auction will start March 29, on schedule, even with the news that a federal court is allowing an LPTV station owned by Latina Broadcasters of Daytona Beach back into the auction.

"In response to last night’s ruling by the D.C. Circuit, we will permit Latina Broadcasters to participate provisionally in the Incentive Auction, subject to the outcome of judicial review," the FCC said.

That review won't be completed until at least September—when oral argument has been scheduled.

"The auction will commence on March 29th, as scheduled," the FCC continued. It had argued that letting Latina back in could delay the auction by several weeks, but that could have been the completion rather than the start.

The FCC said it was also supplementing its brief with a letter to the court "explaining that, while the Court expressed its expectation that allowing Latina to participate will not cause the auction to be delayed, granting Videohouse’s request for a stay or provisional participation will cause substantial delay and resulting harm to the public.”

The court said it had checked the FCC's website and it appeared that the data showed the FCC was already including Latina in its calculations. The FCC initially told Latina it was eligible, then on Feb. 12, a month after the deadline for applicants—Latina applied—said that had been a mistake.

Videohouse is another LPTV, which requested a stay of the auction start date. At press time, the court had not yet ruled on that request.

Latina asked that the court stay the FCC's decision that Latina could not participate in the auction, only if that had not been granted did Latina wand to delay the start.

Then the FCC will have to figure out how much spectrum that is and set a clearing target. The actual bidding likely would not have started until early May even without the stay, and there is no guarantee that Latina will ultimately participate, though that seems likely, or that the station will be one the FCC winds up needing or will be the winning bidder.

The FCC has some wiggle room in the auction, even continuing to hold to the March 29 start date. That is simply the date by which stations eligible for the auction and having applied to it by Jan. 12 have to commit to participating and tell the FCC at what level—giving up spectrum or moving to a lower channel if that is an option.

The FCC told the court it will have to update its data files and retest them to put Latina--provisionally--back in the auction. The FCC this week sent RSA tokens to participating stations, which they will need to make their March 29 elections and to bid in the auction. Latina will now be getting one of those as well.

Likely with the auction still starting on time, the delay will come in the announcing that clearing target, which means the auction bidding could be pushed later into the spring, perhaps mid or late May.

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.