Skip to main content

FCC Wants Broadcast Spectrum Auctioned by 2014

According to top FCC officials, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski
Friday will circulate the FCC's long-awaited framework for reclaiming and re-auctioning
broadcast spectrum for wireless use, and repacking remaining stations,
with the target of having a report and order voted by mid-2013 and the auctions
completed by the end of 2014.

It is described as a comprehensive treatment rather than the
first of a series of items, a lot of detailed proposals that the FCC will then
seek comment on and adjust as needed. The FCC is trying to move far enough down
the road with this initial proposal to make that auction goal of 2014 a
realistic one.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which is
being teed up for a vote at the FCC's September meeting, seeks comment on the
design for the auctions, but also provides detailed proposals on both the
reverse auction to reclaim spectrum from broadcasters and forward auction to
get it in the hands of wireless broadband providers, according to an FCC
official familiar with the rulemaking speaking on background. The rulemaking
will be assigned to a general docket since it involves both the Media Bureau
(broadcasting) and the Wireless Bureau (broadband).

The NPRM lays out the proposed reverse auction design, which
includes three options for broadcasters who want to offer up spectrum: 1) give
up all of it, 2) give up a portion and share spectrum, and 3) move from a U to V. The official said the FCC will try to make it easy for broadcasters to bid
on giving up spectrum so they will participate.

He would not comment on the methodology
(optimization models) the FCC is proposing for repacking in conjunction with
the reverse auction, but suggested it would ask a lot of questions and make
broadcasters part of the process.

The FCC will need to figure out a lot of
moving parts, including how bidders bid, how winners are determined and how
much they get paid. There were no details immediately available on how the FCC
plans to repack stations, and repackage spectrum on the "buy" side to
make it attractive for wireless 4G and LTE. But the official said the FCC
follows the statute in making all reasonable efforts, and making specific
proposals in the NPRM, on how to preserve coverage areas and protect stations
from interference.

The FCC's goal is to make it attractive for broadcasters to give
up spectrum, and repackage those 6 MHZ swaths of spectrum into something that
is attractive to wireless companies.

The FCC has plenty of experience with forward auctions;
it's the reverse auction that has it covering some new territory.

The NPRM will include a fairly extensive education
program, including workshops, but the official said that this will not be the
first of a series of NPRM's, but essentially the whole enchilada, with targeted
adjustments, and plenty of time for industry comment--something like a hundred
days in total.

The NPRM also proposes what the FCC will consider legitimate
moving expenses for tapping into the statutory maximum $1.75 billion fund to
compensate broadcasters, and MVPDS, for any expenses in moving/sharing

Then, after the auctions, there needs to be a
transition plan for broadcasters who are being repacked to actually make that
move. The NPRM includes specific proposals for that as well.

"In freeing up spectrum
for wireless broadband, incentive auctions will drive faster speeds, greater capacity,
and ubiquitous mobile coverage," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said of
the NPRM. "These are essential ingredients for innovation and leadership
in the 21st century economy where smart phones and tablets powered by 4G LTE
and Wi-Fi networks are proliferating, and the mobile Internet becomes more
important every day. Over the last few years, the U.S.
has regained global leadership in mobile innovation -- and we must not let up