FCC Clarifies Auction Assignment Phase
WASHINGTON—The Federal Communications Commission today clarified the procedure for the assignment phase of the auction, where winning bidders of generic frequency blocks will be able to bid on specific frequencies.
“All bidders with winnings from the clock phase are eligible to participate in the assignment phase,” the commission announced on the Incentive Auction Dashboard. “Within a few business days after the end of the clock phase, we expect to release a public notice announcing when bidding in the assignment phase will begin and providing information on assignment phase bidder education materials.”
These materials will include “an online tutorial and an assignment phase bidding system user guide.” The assignment phase tutorial will be similar the clock phase tutorial—the clock phase being the one currently in progress, where bidders continue to bid on spectrum blocks.
The tutorial will review assignment-phase procedures and give examples of system calculations as well as an overview of the bidding system. The user guide is intended to provide familiarity “with the functionality of the assignment phase bidding system, which is different from the one used for the clock phase,” the commission said.
About a week after the bidder education materials are posted online, auction staff will open a “short preview period” of the assignment-phase system, allow winning bidders to log in, view the schedule and download bidding options.
After the preview period, there will be a practice assignment-phase auction followed by a mock assignment-phase auction. Details about the procedure for both will be provided in a public notice following the close of the clock phase. Once the practice and mock auctions are done, actual assignment-phase bidding will begin.
Organizers said they expect assignment-phase bidding to “take several weeks” considering the 416 wireless licensing areas, referred to as “partial economic areas” or PEAs, that have to be assigned for both reserved and unreserved spectrum. Reserved spectrum comprises a nationwide 30 MHz swath set aside for wireless bidders that don't already have significant holdings in the low band—essentially, where TV used to live.
According to the commission ’s Aug.11, 2015 Bidding Procedures Public Notice, “The final price that a winning bidder must pay for a license it wins in the assignment phase will be the final clock phase price for the category of license it won within a given PEA, adjusted by the percentage of any impairment to the frequency block, plus any assignment phase payment, all reduced by any designated entity bidding credit.”
The process of figuring out where to put remaining TV stations in the smaller post-auction TV band commenced when the final stage rule of the auction was met (by meeting specific price thresholds) Jan. 18. This is according to the Sept. 30 Transition Scheduling Plan Public Notice, which states, “As soon as the final stage rule is satisfied, the final television channel assignment plan will be determined.”
Displaced TV stations will first receive a confidential letter notifying them of their new channel assignment, most likely within the next couple of weeks, according to an FCC official. Once the wireless license assignment-phase bidding is complete, an Auction Closing and TV Station Reassignment Public Notice noting all new channel assignments will be issued.
TV Technology ran key points of the Transition Scheduling Plan PN a few days after the document was released and reproduces them here as they apply to the 84 MHz of spectrum being cleared:
- At 84 MHz, 1,274 stations have to move.
- FCC started finalizing the repackonce the final stage rule was met Jan. 18.
- Each station eligible to remain on the air will receive a confidential letter with channel assignment, technical parameters and assigned transition phase—likely within the next two weeks.
- Once the assignment phase of the forward auction closes, the FCC will release an “Auction Closing and TV Channel Reassignment Public Notice” listing all post-auction television station channel assignments, technical parameters and repack deadlines.
- These deadlines comprise 10 transition phases, each with sequential testing periods and phase completion dates.(The commission sought feedback on whether or not it should consider completion date waivers in some cases.)
- All stations within a Designated Market Area will be assigned to no more than two transition phases.
- Transition phases will all begin at the same time, but have sequentially phased completion dates.
- Stations moving to new channels will have three months from the release of the “Auction Closing and Channel Reassignment PN” to apply for construction permits for facilities modifications.
- The construction permit deadline will be the phase completion date for that station.
- With the exception of the first transition phase, the testing phase will begin the day after the phase completion date. Equipment tests on post-auction channels will be confined to a station’s specified test phase.
- Stations that may experience or create interference at new channels will have to coordinate equipment testing as part of a “linked-station set” in a daisy chain, illustrated above right.
- At 84 MHz, 710 stations are linked.
- This coordination may involve operating at a lower power or accepting more interference during testing.
- Stations that are not part of a linked-station set may commence testing without coordinating it with their spectrum neighbors.
- The commission is proposing to allow a 2 percent increase in temporary pairwise interference during the transition, and no more than 0.5 percent afterward.
- The FCC’s Media Bureau will use two software programs to establish the repack process:
— The Phase Assignment Tool will assign TV stations to a specific transition phase based on constraints designed to minimize interference as channels are assigned in the auction process. These constraints include:
- Causing no more than 2 percent new interference to another station during the transition.
- No Canadian stations will be assigned before the third transition phase, and none will be assigned temporary channels.
- No more than 10 transition phases.
- No temporary channels will be assigned, with the possible exception of stations in complicated interference dependencies and those close to their post-auction channel assignment. (Discussed further below.)
- At least one, but no more than two transition phases per station.
- No phase can have more than 125 linked stations.
- No station in a “complicated” interference-interdependency will be assigned to the first phase.
- A difference of no more than 30 stations between the largest and smallest transition phases.
— The Phase Scheduling Tool will be used to establish phase completion dates.
- This tool will divide the station transition into a pre-constructionstage and a constructionstage, with the goal of managing resource availability.
- It will incorporate specific estimates regarding the availability of tower crews.
- Tower crews will be divided into three categories—U.S. crews qualified for more difficult jobs, such as top-mounted antennas on towers exceeding 300 feet; U.S. crews qualified to do less difficult jobs; and Canadian crews.
- The software discounts the time allotted to multiple jobs on a single tower.
- It assumes that 75 percent of stations will need an auxiliary antenna.
- Testing periods for stations that complete the transition in four weeks will be "scaled up" to allow four weeks of testing.
- The commission would prefer to make notemporary channel assignments, but sought comment on them nonetheless:
- Should the commission decide to use temporary channel assignments, they would be limited to stations with complex interdependencies.
- These temporary channel assignments would be close to the station’s final channel assignment, and limited to “relatively low-power stations.”
- If stations are assigned a temporary channel, they must apply for a Special Temporary Authority to broadcast on it within 90 days of the release date of the “Auction Closing and Channel Reassignment PN.”
- Must-carry would apply to temporary channel assignments.
- Inter service interference protection would apply to temporary channel assignees.
- “Reasonably incurred costs of equipment needed to move to temporary channels are eligible for reimbursement,” for both broadcasters and multichannel TV distributors.
- Construction deadline extension requests will be evaluated case by case.
- Proposals for expanded facilities or alternate channels also will be evaluated, case by case, according to their overall impact on the repack.
Again, TV Technology strongly encourages readers to consult the FCC Media Bureau’s Transition Scheduling Plan Public Notice, Appendix A, which starts on p. 19 and lays out more technical details of the commission’s proposed repack plan.
See more TV Technology coverage at our spectrum auction silo.
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