FCC’s Wheeler Circulates Incentive Auction Item

Draft will use new OET-69 data, but attempt to recreate exact station contours in repack

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is indeed planning to vote on a broadcast incentive auction rule framework at the May 15 meeting, according to senior FCC officials speaking to reporters on background. The auction will include what they said was high first offers for broadcast spectrum, but that the auction would be entirely voluntary.

Wheeler circulated the draft to the other commissioners April 17. In a blog posting, he reiterated that, for broadcasters, the auction would be "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for an infusion of cash to expand their business model and explore new innovations, while continuing to provide their traditional services to consumers. We will ensure that broadcasters have all of the information they need to make informed business decisions about whether and how to participate."

The officials outlined the band plan framework to be voted on, though making clear it was a draft that could be changed in negotiations with the other commissioners.

The officials emphasized that the goal of the auction was to free up spectrum for wireless, but that it would have to balance that goal with the other goal of giving broadcasters a one-time-only financial boost and preserving the service for those who want to stay in the broadcast business.

The auction item will be divided into four parts, dealing with the band plan, auction process, post-auction transition, and post-transition regulatory issues (see below).

The outline was generally along the lines of the framework as reported in B&C.

The band plan will feature paired spectrum of both uplink and downlink spectrum with a gap between, and a guard band separating wireless and broadcast spectrum. Wireless companies will bid for 5 MHz generic blocks of spectrum rather than licenses.

The officials said that, in the repacking, the FCC would attempt to preserve the exact coverage areas (contours) of stations as of February 2012, not just the same number of viewers. But it will use the new OET-69 data to calculate interference protections for repacked stations, something broadcasters are strongly opposed to.

The auction will be successful, statutorily, if it covers broadcasters' bids to give up spectrum plus a $1.75 billion broadcaster relocation and repacking fund.

The FCC is holding three auctions to raise money to free up spectrum for mobile wireless and pay for FirstNet, the interoperable broadband first responder network. FCC officials predict that by the time of the broadcast incentive auction, it will have raised most if not all of the $7 billion in estimates that network will cost, with the broadcast auction going to pay for compensating broadcasters for giving up spectrum, moving from UHF to VHF or sharing channels, plus deficit reduction.

The plan is still to hold the auction in mid-2015.