FCC Outlines Incentive Auction R&O on May Meeting Agenda

WASHINGTON—Broadcast TV reception will be preserved for the same viewers, rather than the same number of them, after next year’s spectrum incentive auction, Federal Communications Commission executives said Friday in a conference call. The call was meant to outline a Report & Order the commissioners will vote on during their regular monthly meeting May 15. The R&O is not yet set in stone, but the basic tenets were laid out.

Post-auction, the R&O would require participating broadcasters to clear the spectrum within three months of receiving auction proceeds. Those staying on the air but getting moved in the repack will have 39 months to re-establish their signal on a new channel assignment.

The issue of signal coverage —as defined by the number of TV households in a reception area—was a point of contention between the FCC and the National Association of Broadcasters. The NAB advocated for preserving coverage for the same number of households a TV station reaches pre-auction. The commission will define coverage as the same households a station’s signal reached as of Feb. 22, 2012.

Other elements in the order include provisions for the operation of unlicensed devices in the guard bands (between broadcast and wireless spectrum) and duplex gaps (between wireless up- and downlink blocks). The R&O also will include a carve-out in unlicensed territory for wireless mics and allow the use of unlicensed devices in Ch. 37, which is now designated for radio astronomy. A future order is expected to address the coexistence of unlicensed devices with radio astronomy in Ch. 37.

The R&O is said to cover the auction process, the band plan, the repack and relocation, as well as post-auction issues of ownership, channel-sharing and technical and service rules for new wireless licenses.

The auction is a two-part process consisting of a forward auction, where the floor price for participating broadcasters in each market is determined in successive bidding rounds designed to clear a specific amount of spectrum (not yet defined by the FCC). Broadcasters have three options to participate—shut down, channel share, or move into the VHF band. Each will determine opening bid prices, which will decrease with each round as the FCC determines the floor in each market.

Wireless providers will participate in the forward auction in a traditional manner where bids escalate. Bidding will close when there is no more demand. There is no minimum threshold of either spectrum or revenue to complete the auction, but the Congressional statute does dictate that the broadcaster relocation fund, the funding for the FirstNet public safety network and other expenses be covered by auction proceeds.

Limiting the amount of spectrum any one wireless provider can win has been discussed but will not be addressed in this R&O.

The band plan will consist of paired up- and downlink in 5 MHz blocks. Bidders will be vying for generic blocks of spectrum rather than specific licenses. The commission will not seek to recover more than a nationwide amount in rural areas. Licenses will be partitioned in Partial Economic Areas to permit entry by local wireless providers, while allowing those with a nationwide plan to aggregate the PEAs.Details of the PEAs continue to be worked out.

The R&O is currently in circulation at the commission. Details may change before the May 15 meeting, when the full commission will vote on the final draft.