FCC sets date for first vote on broadcast incentive auction rules

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has set the first vote on a framework of rules for the broadcast incentive auctions for Sept. 28. It is expected to lead to a final video on the auction rules by the middle of next year.

The chairman said the incentive auctions will drive faster broadband speeds, greater capacity and ubiquitous mobile coverage. “To ensure ongoing innovation in mobile broadband, we must pursue several strategies vigorously,” Genachowski said.

The commission will make a series of recommendations on how the auctions will be conducted, how broadcasters will be paid, how the spectrum will be delivered to wireless companies and for the repacking of broadcast spectrum. It is expected the industry will get three months to comment.

“Freeing up more spectrum for both licensed use and for unlicensed services like Wi-Fi; driving faster speeds, greater capacity, and ubiquitous mobile Internet coverage; and taking additional steps to ensure that our invisible infrastructure for mobile innovation can meet the needs of the 21st century,” Genachowski said. “If adopted, the incentive auction proposal before the Commission will accelerate these strategies.”

The FCC chairman said he expects the auction process to strengthen both the mobile and broadcast industries, creating new opportunities and new benefits. “In particular, many broadcasters will have a new and unique financial opportunity as a result of incentive auctions,” he said. “The Commission is committed to making every effort to be a resource to the broadcaster community, which is why we are launching a new ‘Broadcaster LEARN Program,’ designed to empower decision-makers.

“Through this program, a host of new resources will be available as broadcasters and others participate in the comment process and consider this business decision,” Genachowski said.

The FCC was empowered by Congress to encourage broadcasters to sell UHF to wireless carriers who have complained about a lack of available spectrum as consumers use increasingly more data in the country.

Genachowski began circulating proposed rules to other commissioners last week, with plans to vote on the initial proposal at a Sept. 28 meeting. The agency hopes to vote on the final new rules by the middle of 2013, and hold the auctions in 2014.

The Consumer Electronics Association praised the FCC for taking action. “The auctions will yield innumerable benefits for American consumers to access wireless broadband and ensure that devices such as smartphones and tablets can continue to connect to those networks,” said Julie Kearney, vice president for regulatory affairs the trade group.

The NAB, though not opposing the auction process, has been suspicious of it. “We have no quarrel with television stations choosing to voluntarily participate in the auction process,” said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. “Our overriding objective remains the preservation of a vibrant future for free and local TV stations that serve tens of millions of Americans every day with quality entertainment, local news, the most popular sports, and life-saving weather warnings.”