Road Trips and Auction Rules

Posted on November 26th, 2014 by

Although the TV Incentive Auction now won’t be happening until early 2016 (at best), the FCC is continuing its march toward the auction. On its blog in the past several days, the FCC announced future road trips to 51 cities located in markets where the FCC thinks it “will need stations to participate in the reverse auction.” The field visits will include both town hall meetings and, by request, confidential one-on-one meetings. Broadcasters that cannot make the meetings will apparently have an opportunity for private conference calls and webinars. No word on the exact timing of the trips, but we suspect late winter and early spring 2015 as the likely timing.

The language identifying the cities as being in markets where the FCC “will need” stations to participate strikes us as odd. While

everyone knows that broadcaster participation is necessary to ensure a successful auction, the idea that the FCC would “need” participation has a certain “non-voluntary” ring to it. The auction is, after all, designed to be voluntary, with incentives offered to increase and encourage participation. The agency in charge of designing and conducting the auction should be neutral. Rather than “needing” anyone to participate, the approach should be one where the FCC simply provides straightforward information on alternatives and options for participation. A strategy to visit markets that will be key to the auction’s success smacks of trying to game the system.

Speaking of auctions, they need rules and the FCC is getting set to put some more of those in place. At its December 11, 2014 monthly meeting, the FCC plans to consider (and probably adopt) a notice of proposed rulemaking seeking comment on the detailed procedures necessary to carry out the incentive auction. These are the specific rules that will govern auction mechanics and bidding, though for this auction, they go a bit further. The notice will apparently include not only proposals on auction design issues such as determination of the initial clearing target and opening bid prices, but also on issues related to the final television channel assignment process (repacking).

And finally, when it comes to repacking, the FCC has now released more software information in response to calls from those trying to conduct their repacking simulations using the FCC’s program. NAB has raised concerns about several of those simulations as part of its lawsuit against the FCC.