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FCC Favors Feasibility Repacking Model

WASHINGTON — The feds favor “feasibility” over “optimization” in determining where displaced TV will go after the 2015 spectrum incentive auction. The commission is arguing for using a feasibility check rather than optimization to save time during the reverse auction, when broadcasters essentially name their price going in.

It could be “conducted rapidly during the course of bidding… because it would only require determining whether a channel assignment is feasible for a set of stations,” according to a Public Notice from the Federal Communications Commission’s Incentive Auction Task Force released Jan. 9. “Optimization analysis is time-consuming; conducting it during the course of bidding in the reverse auction would restrict the commission’s auction design options.”

The feasibility data could be used to optimize channel reassignments after bidding, the commission said.

“Also, if the commission chooses to use a sealed-bid auction design, then optimization could be used to determine which bids to accept in order to obtain a given amount of spectrum at minimum cost,” the Notice stated.

The Task Force did not release any computer code, but rather “methodological information” outlining two approaches to the feasibility check.

“We have been investigating various classes of mathematical software, or ‘solvers,’ capable of determining whether or not a feasible assignment exists given the applicable constraints,” the Notice stated. “We have focused our investigation on two different types of solvers in particular: Satisfiability solvers and integer optimization solvers.”

Satisfiability derives feasibility from Boolean variables. Integer optimization is focused on allocating limited resources in the most efficient way possible using assigned discrete values. The commission said that “preliminary investigations” indicate that either method could yield a result in less than two minutes.

“Thus, it appears that the use of feasibility checking would be compatible with a multiple round auction format because it can compute answers quickly enough to allow multiple rounds of an auction to take place in a reasonable amount of time,” the Notice said.

The Incentive Auction Task Force intends to host a Workshop/Webinar on the feasibility method in February. It will also provide an update to the commission during its regular monthly meeting on Jan. 30.

The full commission will make final decisions on the repacking process.