FCC laying groundwork for a 2014 spectrum auction

The FCC recently got a status on the broadcast spectrum auction, after which Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn said the commission is on time and on schedule for the auctions to occur in 2014.

“In October of last year, the Commission set the ambitious schedule of releasing a Report & Order by the end of this year and conducting the auction in 2014,” Clyburn said. “The Commissioners and staff have participated in over 180 incentive auction-related events and meetings since the enactment of the Spectrum Act. Given the work that has been done to date, I am confident that the staff is laying the groundwork necessary to achieve that goal.” 

The presentation to FCC commissioners came from the Office of Engineering and Technology and Media Bureau representatives. It offered an overview of the remaining issues and the progress being made in solving the problems before the auction can be held.

One of the major components of the auction is repacking, the process of reassigning broadcast TV channels to free up contiguous blocks of spectrum for mobile broadband use. The two key components of the repacking process are calculating TV station coverage and inference characteristics and using those calculations with other data to analyze repacking constraints.

On July 22, the commission issued the first of several public notices on the repacking process. Next up, will be a webinar in September on technical details of the publicly released repacking resources, plus additional repacking information.

Another issue is transition and reimbursement planning. The FCC said it now reviewing preliminary findings on cost models, timing and logistics of transition planning. It is also beginning long-term planning for a fund administrator. The next steps will be to release a preliminary reimbursement cost guidelines for the general public and host a workshop in September on broadcaster transition and reimbursement processes.

As to criticism by broadcasters of the so-called TVStudy software issued for repacking and interference, FCC representatives said the current software uses the same methodology and source code as it did in the 1990s. That means, the representatives said, it is not yet capable of the analysis needed for the auction.

Republican commissioner Ajit Pai expressed concern about the software. “At the end of the day, the full Commission will have to decide how to update this software. To that end, I continue to believe that the broadcast and wireless industries should come together and develop a mutually acceptable compromise,” Pai said.

Pai said he would make two observations. “First, broadcasters should support updating our software so that it can work on modern computer systems, run more quickly and perform the type of analysis that will be necessary to support the incentive auction. Likewise, they should be open to including the most recent census data in that software.

“On the other hand, wireless carriers should focus on the important changes that need to be made to the software for it to work, instead of every change that could be made. Debating each minor update to the software won’t serve anyone well, and we certainly don’t want this project to end up in court,” Pai said.

On the progress of talks with Canada and Mexico about border spectrum coordination issues, FCC representatives doubted it would result in a formal treaty or agreement, but rather a higher degree of certainty about border issues.