WASHINGTON: The FCC today unanimously approved a
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for auctioning off TV spectrum. The NPRM sets
a three-part process for the auctions: An initial reverse auction by which TV
submit a price they’ll accept to relinquish spectrum; a repacking of
TV stations; and a forward auction of freed-up spectrum licenses.
The Notice also anticipates creating a band plan that allocates the reclaimed
in 5 MHz blocks, with uplink starting at Ch. 51 (698 MHz, the upper end of the
band), and extending downward toward Ch. 37 based on the amount of reclaimed
The downlink band would begin at Ch. 36 and extend downward. The repacking plan
would include the establishment of 6 MHz
guard bands between mobile and broadcast licensees that would be
unlicensed devices. It would also make
Ch. 37 available for unlicensed devices as well as the two channels now set
for wireless microphones.
With regard to Ch. 37, which is now dedicated
to Radio Astronomy Service and medical telemetry, the NPRM seeks comment on
or not to relocate those operations. It also seeks feedback on how to address
availability for wireless microphones, fixed broadcast auxiliary stations and
The NPRM also seeks comment on how to repack TV stations without disrupting service,
including “reasonable deadlines” for moving to a new
channel assignment or going
dark. It proposes allowing stations that are eligible for relocation reimbursement to submit their actual
costs after the fact,
or an estimate beforehand for an advanced payment.
Within the auction framework, the NPRM offers a fourth option for broadcasters
may want to participate—to accept more interference.
The Spectrum Act laid out three scenarios—going dark, channel
sharing, or moving
to a VHF assignment. The NPRM seeks comment on allowing broadcasters to sell
signal protection rights.
On repacking, Congress required only
that the FCC make “all reasonable efforts” to preserve TV
station coverage areas.
The FCC said its NRPM interprets “coverage area” to mean a
station’s service area
as currently defined by FCC rules, ostensibly, using the Longley-Rice method.
unnamed FCC official who introduced the NPRM at today’s open meeting
said that the
repacking methodology would be a crucial element in determining which reverse
bids are accepted.
That methodology was presented in the 2010 National Broadband Plan as the Allotment
Optimization Model, which FCC
Chairman Julius Genachowski pledged to produce once the commission received
authority to hold spectrum incentive auctions. It was never produced, and was
mentioned today beyond the unidentified official’s reference.
A Report and Order derived from
today’s Notice is to be issued next year, with auctions to begin June
All of the commissioners agreed that the process would have to be as simple and
streamlined as possible, yet they emphasized that the procedure was the first
its kind. A “Broadcaster Learn” education plan was referred
to during the meeting,
but no details were provided.
“This is the most complex spectrum auction in world history…
I think we should measure
twice before making the cut,” said Commissioner Robert McDowell, who ticked off a list of items
the NPRM did not take
McDowell speculated that 6 MHz guard bands might be high considering advanced
He asked if a 6 MHz band plan versus the 5 MHz plan proposed would make more
He brought up the pending interference issues involving wireless providers in
A Block of spectrum and broadcasters at Ch.
51, and asked whether it should be resolved before the auction.
He also speculated
about the commission being able issue an incentive auction order without
NPRMs and comments.
“We all simply do not know where the facts will lead us,”
Commissioner Ajit Pai went further, saying
he was disappointed that the item didn’t include “critical
questions I believe we
E.g., the way the NPRM is written, the auction may yield no net revenues, he
Pai questioned whether the auctions should be left open as long as there are
He asked if how the $1.75 billion relocation reimbursement fund would affect
auction, and whether the commission should require that the estimated cost of
not exceed that sum as a closing condition to the auction. He also said the 6
guard bands might be more than “technically reasonable” as
required by statute.
“The NPRM assumes we don’t need to license the guard
bands,” he said. “Would auctioning
guard band spectrum raise additional revenue? Could we licensed guard bands and
assign them to a band managers?”
On channel sharing, Pai said he hoped stakeholders would weigh in.
“Should both parties file pre-auction applications and participate in
he asked. “Should there be channel sharing by LPTVs in markets where they’re likely
to be displaced? I wish NPRM would
have encouraged channel-sharing by LPTVs where they’re likely to be
He also said he would have preferred that the NPRM addressed translators,
and set a “realistic timeframe.”
With a goal of starting the auctions June 2014, “when do we need to
rules and auction procedures?”
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said “voluntary”
was the most important word in the NPRM. She said she was pleased that it
small business credits to facilitate
entry by women and minorities.
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel asked
that “broadcasters to make a fair assessment of what this auction can
industry.” She said that simplicity, fairness and balance were
crucial to developing
the auction process.
“Fairness is essential,” she said. “This is
especially true with regard to the treatment
of broadcasters that do not participate in the auction. Fairness demands that
consider how to accomplish repacking by minimizing unnecessary disruption and
the ability of the public to continue to receive free over-the-air
“Fairness requires notice,” she said. “I would
ask that the agency develop a timeline
for all of its upcoming auctions.”
Rosenworcel also said no part of the process could be considered
“For instance, the interference rules
we consider will not only impact broadcast services, but also how much spectrum
will be available for auction, which in turn will impact the revenues
Chairman Julius Genachowski said when
the concept of incentive auctions were first introduced in 2010 as part of the
Broadband Plan, “We heard the idea would not go anywhere. Not in this
at this time. We anticipate holding the world’s
first incentive auction in 2014.”
The NPRM would be the first to provide contiguous spectrum for unlicensed use,
said. He said the process would hold a “firm focus on the engineering
and be “fact-based.”
Genachowski said broadcasters would “reap benefits from a more robust
ecosystem,” and that it would help them deliver and monetize content
and mobile devices.
He added, “We recognize the need for humility. We’re
committed to engage with all
~ Deborah D. McAdams