By Paul Barbagallo
The Federal Communications Commission is moving forward with its plan to
conduct the first-ever voluntary “incentive auction” of spectrum, in which TV
broadcasters will have the opportunity to give back some or all of their
licensed frequencies to the FCC so they could then be auctioned off to mobile
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski Sept. 7 sent the other commissioners his
proposed rules for the auction with the aim of securing their votes at the
agency's Sept. 28 open meeting. At that point, a formal notice of proposed
rulemaking would be released, triggering a 60-day comment period for initial
comments and a 45-day comment period for replies. The chairman's goal is
finalize the rules by 2013, and hold an auction in 2014, an agency official
confirmed to BNA.
In an emailed statement Sept. 7, Genachowski urged broadcasters not to pass
up the opportunity to relinquish under-utilized spectrum and receive a share of
the auction proceeds.
“Even as the commission draws on the expertise of the world's leading
economists, auction design experts, and engineers, our ability to maximize the
opportunities of spectrum will depend on the active engagement of the public and
all stakeholders,” Genachowski said. “I urge broad participation by all. As I've
stated before, we fully expect this process to strengthen both our 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.”
The FCC, in its National Broadband Plan in March 2010, set a goal of
reclaiming as much as 120 MHz of broadcast TV spectrum, which would then be
auctioned to mobile internet providers led by Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc.
to meet the rising consumer demand for bandwidth-hungry smartphones and tablet
computers. But although the Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2012
(Pub. L. No. 112-78) stipulates that about $15 billion of the $30 billion
extension in unemployment benefits will be paid for with the proceeds of
incentive auctions, nothing in the measure will force TV broadcasters to
relinquish their airwaves.
Responding to the FCC's announcement, the National Association of
Broadcasters pledged to work with the FCC and Congress to implement the act.
“[The association] has no quarrel with television stations choosing to
voluntarily participate in the auction process,” Dennis Wharton, NAB's executive
vice president of communications, said in a statement Sept. 7. “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
In a speech at the National Association of Broadcasters' convention in Las
Vegas April 16, Genachowski made it clear to broadcasters that any return of
their spectrum will be purely voluntary. He further pointed out that $1.75
billion will be made available to compensate stations that choose not to
participate in the auction and are then relocated to other channels. And,
lastly, he noted that the law provides three options for TV station owners:
contribute all 6 MHz of spectrum; agree to channel share; or move from UHF to
According to industry estimates, between 300 and 400 TV stations would need
to be moved off of the broadcast-TV band to reclaim 120 MHz of spectrum.
To date, not one major TV broadcaster has publicly said it would give any of
Though the FCC did not divulge many details about its NPRM, the document is
expected to contain proposals for repacking--or squeezing remaining stations
into a smaller band.
The FCC intends to shuffle some stations around in the band to create
contiguous blocks of spectrum, which are more desirable to wireless