(July 16, 2015 update—An FCC official emailed TV Technology with the following comment: “No new data was released—it was just a visualization of already-released data to help clarify the analysis, as some parties had requested clarification of the data. The data was released in two tranches in December 2014 [pg . 92] and May 2015, so there was no new information released, it was a different presentation of the data.”)
WASHINGTON—The Federal Communications Commission has postponed Thursday’s vote on its incentive auction procedure. The item involved contested TV channel repack simulations released under a Sunshine Act waiver just six days before the meeting. The maneuver caught the attention of key lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who told FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to pull the item.
Commissioner Ajit Pai released a statement saying the item had been pulled. He welcomed the action and called the lawmakers’ action “critical.”
“First,” he said, “The staff did not give stakeholders sufficient time to analyze the new data, attempt to replicate it, and provide the commission with fully informed feedback. Second, the staff did not disclose all of the data that had been requested. And third, the chairman’s office did not afford the commissioners enough time to analyze either the data or the comments about that data.”
The repack simulations—intended to reduce the number of TV stations that would end up in the wireless guard band, or “duplex gap”—were released on Friday after business hours. The National Association of Broadcasters promptly started sending letters and making phone calls Monday morning. The NAB’s Rick Kaplan wrote to FCC Incentive Auction Task Force chief, Gary Epstein, on Monday, requesting more details. Among other things, Kaplan said that surely there were more than two simulations for each of three spectrum clearing targets. (See, “NAB to FCC: Two Repack Simulations Arent Enough.”) When it was revealed that there were indeed just two each, the NAB lobbied the commissioners’ staffs.
House Energy & Commerce leadership got into the game on Tuesday afternoon. Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) released a letter they’d sent to Wheeler asking him to back off of the vote.
“Stakeholders now find themselves in the unfortunate position of being handed an incomplete document at the 11th hour that lacks the underlying data to support its conclusions,” they said. (See, “Lawmakers Call on FCC to Postpone Thursdays Vote.”)
The NAB’s Dennis Wharton released the following statement:
“The FCC’s original incentive auction order fashioned a careful compromise allowing licensed wireless microphones and unlicensed users to operate in the duplex gap. The FCC could easily have voted tomorrow on an order maintaining this balanced approach and not delayed the process. Instead, the commission has produced no explanation for its about-face and has left stakeholders baffled as to why it is walking away from previous commitments. It’s time for the FCC to engage stakeholders in a transparent, data-driven manner, and come to a successful resolution of this issue.”
The commission has moved the item to its Aug. 6 regular meeting, along with the Mobile Spectrum Holdings item also originally on this month’s agenda.
TV Technology and sister publication B&C will be hosting a Webinar on what to consider in preparation for next year's incentive auction. Sinclair’s Mark Aitken, Howard Symons of the FCC, Preston Padden of the EOBC and Rick Kaplan will join B&C’s John Eggerton and Deborah McAdams of TV Technology to discuss financial considerations, strategic planning, the rollout of ATSC 3.0, and the impact on larger broadcast ecosystem for vendors, programmers and syndicators. Registration information is available here.
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