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Incentive Auction Application Process to Open Early 2015

WASHINGTON—The Federal Communications Commission will start accepting TV spectrum incentive auction applications in early 2015. That’s according to a report to the commission by Gary Epstein, chief of its Incentive Auction Task Force. Epstein provided an update to the full commission during its Jan. 30 regular meeting.

He said a Report & Order detailing the structure of the incentive auction would be issued in the spring. It will be followed by a comment period and a procedures Public Notice as well as “increased robust outreach and education for broadcasters.”

“In early 2015, we will begin accepting auction applicants,” he said.

Aside from a Public Notice issued Wednesday seeking feedback on interference between wireless providers and TV stations, there was little else of substance in Epstein’s update. He gave a litany of Task Force activities, including that it had accepted all ex parte meeting requests and tallied up 400 such meetings. One chief concern for broadcasters remains unresolved: International signal repacking coordination with Mexico and Canada.

“The chairman indicated in a House hearing last month that he does not expect to have such agreements,” the wrote Rick Kaplan of the National Association of Broadcasters in the lobby’s blog before the FCC meeting. “Assuming that it is even lawful to proceed with the auction without these agreements—and NAB believes it is not—how will a lack of meaningful coordination affect the auction and the amount of spectrum recovered across the country?”

Epstein said negotiations continued.

Another point Kaplan emphasized was the commission’s proposed changes to OET-69, the methodology used to calculate interference between TV channels. OET-69 was incorporated into software developed specifically for repacking TV channels after the auction. The commission named the software “TVStudy.

“The proposed changes, as well as literally 12 different versions [sic] of the TVStudy software in less than a year have only served to introduce uncertainty into the process and threaten to slow down the auction process considerably,” he wrote.

Epstein merely said the commission would conduct TVStudy software demos in advance of the auction to tweak interface and give participants a chance to get familiar. It also proposed another use for OET-69: Calculating interference between wireless providers and TV stations under a variable band plan.

“Accommodating market variation has been a central focus of the incentive auction discussion,” Epstein said.

This “variation” involves auctioning different amounts of spectrum in geographic areas of yet-to-be determined size. A Public Notice on geographic license areas was released last month. Various sizes were suggested, including counties. These geographic areas will determine how spectrum is packaged for auction.

Allowing a different amount of spectrum to be auctioned in each market would yield more spectrum for auction, but also more interference complications because signals would overlap in adjacent markets. Epstein said the Task Force has formed an internal working group to examine potential approaches to preventing such interference.

“Some have suggested a simple distance separation, but that’s not sufficient,” he said.

The commission is instead proposing in the Jan. 29 Public Notice to tailor the foundation of OET-69—the Longley-Rice method of calculating TV signal behavior—to predict potential interference under a variable band plan. (See “FCC Probes TV-Cell Interference Under Variable Band Planfor details.)Kaplan said the interference implications of such a plan are “quite significant.”

The NAB, along with AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, Qualcomm and Intel formally endorsed a contiguous band plan. However, the FCC, under pressure from Congress to bring in nearly $30 billion with the auction, is opting for its own proposal.

It will hold a workshop and webinar on the proposal Feb. 21.