FCC TV Spectrum Incentive Auctions: A Few Insights

Posted on August 1st, 2013 by

Mark it on your calendar.  On July 22, 2013, the FCC made an attempt to be transparent about its plans for an incentive auction, in the form of a blog entry and public notice.  As has been the case from the start, there are many questions posed and no answers being given. However, the FCC did announce a release of more information in the form of a complicated data set and instruction manual on how to access and run software the FCC has written to help figure out how it might be able to repack the TV stations that remain after an auction.

The main purpose of the FCC’s announcement was to ask for input on its repacking data and software. TV stations should take note of the following statement – “this information and analysis will permit broadcasters to validate the accuracy of the information regarding their stations or facilities contained in the FCC’s databases, to ensure that the staff has correctly identified all relevant constraints on repacking.”  In other words, stations should double check the FCC now to be sure they aren’t left by the roadside later.  For that, we recommend calling your consulting engineer, who will probably have the data set and a download of the software.

The FCC’s blog announcement goes on to indicate that the data/software release “provides an opportunity for broadcasters to evaluate the range of channels to which they could be repacked consistent with the requirements of the Spectrum Act and the Commission’s rules if they are not a “winning bidder” in the incentive auction.  Stations that don’t plan to bid in the auction fall into this category.   Again, a call to your consulting engineer might be helpful there.  Here’s a third eye opener.  The FCC openly states that “it is important to note that in these analyses, we make certain assumptions based on information in the record so that the released data has meaningful value to the public.  Those assumptions do not imply any final Commission determination regarding the information provided today.”  Sounds like a little “cover” for what has been a pretty tenuous appoach to figuring out how to do all of this.

And finally, to put all television broadcasters at ease, the FCC’s blog entry closes with a statement that it recognizes “that repacking is complicated, and that it will take time for people to review and understand the materials we are releasing today.”  But that ease is short-lived, since the FCC then asks for “concrete ideas about how to best develop the repacking methodology.”  We read into this last statement that they are still very much trying to figure out if, and how, this whole thing will work.

On a related note, we were able to finally access the June 27th Incentive Auction Update presentation made to the FCC Commissioners, and found a few very interesting tidbits in the presentation.  First, the FCC has hired a company named “Widelity” to review equipment cost and availability, tower crew availablity, study internal data on existing equipment, evaluate the reimbursement payment mechanism, and explore the tax treatment of various approaches to reimbursement.  No word on when that report will be available, or whether it will be released, but the subject matter sure is interesting.

We did a little digging online about Widelity.  All of their 8 principals or 19 team members have experience in or come from the wireless and fiber industries.  None of their brief biographies mentioned broadcasting expertise or experience.  That probably explains why their website announces that they have hired outside consultants to assist them with the FCC study, namely Joe Davis, a 30-year broadcast consulting engineer with Chesapeake RF Consultants, and David Cole, a senior appraiser with experience in broadcast appraisals.

Second, it is clear that the staff and Chairwoman Clyburn continue to meet with and/or contact high level Canadian and Mexican officials to resolve interference issues for stations along the borders.  Third, it appears that the FCC will soon embark on a program to develop waivers and special temporary authority procedures to facilitate “pilot projects” including channel sharing pilot projects.  That should be interesting.  Finally, the plan (for now) remains for the FCC to adopt a Report & Order in 2013 and hold the broadcast incentive auctions in 2014.

A new update is to be presented at the FCC’s open meeting in August.