March 29, 2016 Revealed As Possible Start of TV Incentive Auction

Posted on July 30th, 2015 by

These past 30 days have been a bit of high theater for the FCC’s push toward starting the TV incentive auction in early 2016.

The highlight was a mid-July last minute public disclosure of a very limited number of auction scenarios, just before a vote by the Commission on its auction procedures. That brought howls from the Republican Commissioners, as well as a few well-placed U.S. Congressmen, all urging Chairman Wheeler to allow time for the data to be analyzed and more data released before the vote. Chairman Wheeler finally acquiesced, delaying the vote, but immediately scheduling the auction procedures item for the FCC’s August 6th meeting (a 3-week delay). He then confidently announced that the auction was still planned for the first quarter of 2016. The fallout from this spat was an early disclosure of the draft auction procedures report and order being circulated among the Commissioners’ offices. And a peek at that draft revealed the proposed March 29, 2016 auction start date. Funny how transparency works, isn’t it?

The FCC also adopted an order reconsidering and refining its earlier channel sharing decision. That order tweaked the guidelines for channel sharers, in large part adding flexibility for those considering channel sharing arrangements. The FCC then scheduled a July 22nd webinar to discuss those changes, but on the day it was to be held, suddenly decided to delay that webinar until August 13th. We suspect that the webinar delay may have been linked to the auction procedures vote delay. You can sign up for the webinar using the link in this public notice.

And of course, earlier in the month, the FCC’s July 9th deadline passed for auction-eligible full power and Class A television stations to file a pre-auction certification of their technical facilities so that the FCC can finalize its databases before the auction. That flurry of filings, made through the FCC’s Licensing Management System (LMS), revealed some interesting by-products of the FCC’s migration of technical data into LMS.

From our perspective, the LMS data, which integrated tower information and in some cases auto-corrected station license coordinates, was more accurate than the CDBS technical data. Both databases had to be certified, so in some instances, differences created by the FCC’s LMS data integration process had to be pointed out in the certifications. That made things exciting (and more time consuming).

So what’s ahead? First, adoption of the auction procedures order in early August, which will finalize exactly how the auction will work (and a few post-auction items also). Second, from what we hear, a likely lawsuit from LPTV groups who have pressed their case for post-auction protection and data but gotten nowhere. Assuming that occurs, it will be interesting to see whether it delays the planned 2016 auction start date. Third, some announcement in the fall of various deadlines or windows for those who plan to participate in the auction. And of course, for good measure, the FCC will probably throw in a few curve balls along the way.