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FCC Unfolds Incentive Auction Roadmap

FCC auction officials Thursday signaled that the incentive auction is revving up and provided a look at the road ahead for broadcasters and wireless operators in terms of procedures and timetables.

They laid out the general roadmap for broadcasters who want to apply to participate in the broadcast incentive auction, saying that will start with an application procedures public notice in "early fall."

The map was unfolded in a blog post co-authored by Gary Epstein, chair, and Howard Symons, vice-chair, of the Incentive Auction Task Force.

The next step will be to reveal opening bid prices in the reverse (broadcast) auction, which it will do no later than 60 days before the deadline for reverse auction applications—which will be set by that procedures public notice.

Next will be revealing opening bid prices for the forward (wireless) auction—they only said that would happen this fall.

They said the application windows will both close before the end of the year, with some time to make "minor" modifications before the March 29 start of the auction.

Also by March 29, broadcasters have to commit to their preferred option—selling all their spectrum, channel sharing, or moving to a lower channel or from a UHF or a VHF.

Broadcasters will be bound to relinquishing spectrum at that opening price and option.

After all broadcasters have made those initial commitments, the FCC will determine its initial clearing target—how much nationwide spectrum it can clear—and figure out the associated band plan for repacking stations.

Reverse auctions will get a chance to participate in a mock auction to familiarize themselves with the online bidding.

Then the reverse auction begins.

Forward auction participants with complete applications will have to make their upfront payments after the clearing target and band plan are announced. Then they will have a change to participate in a mock auction.

The first round of the forward auction will begin no sooner than 15 business days after the release of the list of qualified forward auction bidders.

Recognizing that is a lot of info to digets, Epstein and Symons said that the FCC will conduct three types of training—webinars, workshops and interactive online tutorials. There will also be a technical hotline during the application and auction process.

There will be a bidding procedures webinar soon after Labor Day, they said.

"The Blog on 'next steps' is enormously helpful and further evidence that the FCC is on track to auction success," said Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition executive director Preston Padden.

“We appreciate the FCC’s release of an updated roadmap on next steps in the development of the 600 MHz Incentive Auction," said Scott Bergmann, VP of regulatory affairs, CTIA – The Wireless Association. "As the FCC finalizes its timeline for this first-of-its-kind auction, we urge the Commission to conduct multiple mock auctions to give all participants the experience and understanding needed to make informed bidding decisions. We also encourage the Commission to take care in setting dates for the application window to ensure that the wireless industry is not subject to an unduly prolonged ‘quiet period’ that could chill necessary business discussions. We look forward to working with the Commission to accommodate these proposals, which will help facilitate a more successful auction that frees up much-needed spectrum to meet consumer demand.”