Spectrum Watch: Waiting Game

The FCC’s spectrum auction will start March 29, or it won’t.

March 29 is when TV stations have to commit to participate; the online bidding won’t start until early May. But that is not the “or it won’t” part.

At presstime, a federal court was considering whether to grant not fewer than three stay requests from low-power TV stations excluded from the auction.

Their stories are different: one turned in the application for eligible low-power status too late (they say thanks to bad FCC staff advice); another was initially told they were eligible (true), then told at the 11th hour (Feb. 12, a month after the close of the auction application process, which they dutifully participated in) they weren’t eligible after all (our mistake, said the FCC). Then there are stations that think the FCC should have included all LPTVs in the auction.

If the court stays the start of the auction—it is a high bar, and thus not likely, but not out of the question—the FCC says it will not be in the public interest. It certainly won’t be in the interest of the (fill in a number, ‘cause the FCC isn’t telling) broadcasters who have applied to the auction, since their communications about business plans are restricted until the auction is completed. 

The FCC isn’t commenting on its prospects for success, but it has vigorously fought delay. Chairman Tom Wheeler, well aware of the challenges, has signaled he expects the auction to go on as scheduled 

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.