The last week has been a busy one for the FCC in preparing for the December applications by broadcasters for participation in the TV incentive auction. The incentive auction will, of course, offer TV broadcasters money (in some cases, lots of it, at least initially) to vacate their spectrum so that the television band can be “repacked” – consolidated into fewer channels – with the reclaimed spectrum being divided into different size blocks and resold to wireless companies for wireless broadband uses. In the last week, the FCC has made public two forms that will be important to that effort – the Form 177 which (as we wrote here) will be filed in December by broadcasters initially interested in participating in the auction, and the Form 2100 Schedule 399, which will be used to claim reimbursement by TV stations that do not surrender their licenses but which are forced to change channels as part of the repacking. The Form 177, the form that broadcasters must submit if they want to take part in the reverse auction, is not easy to find, but is available here, on the website of the Office of Management and Budget, where it has been submitted for review under the Paperwork Reduction Act before it can be released to broadcasters for submission by the December 18 filing deadline.
Similarly, and a bit more publicly, the FCC has released the form, Form 2100 Schedule 399, which broadcasters who do not sell out in the incentive auction, but instead are repacked and forced to move to another channel, will use to claim reimbursement for such moves. The form reveals the categories of expenses for which reimbursement would be made. This form is also being submitted to OMB for approval under the Paperwork Reduction Act, according to the FCC Public Notice which provided notice of the form.The FCC has also announced that it will conduct a workshop for broadcasters on the reverse auction on Tuesday, November 17, from 10 AM to 1 PM Eastern Time at the FCC building in Washington, DC. The session will later be available on the FCC’s website for remote viewing. If you are interested in attending, the FCC Public Notice provides instructions for registration.
Last week, the FCC also released a very technical order, adopting methodologies for determining interference between TV stations and wireless licensees in areas where they operate on the same or adjacent frequencies. This will include situations where the new, repacked TV band does not have sufficient channels to accommodate all remaining TV stations, thus requiring some stations to be located in the spectrum otherwise reassigned to wireless companies. The order also sets out interference that will be allowed during the transition period while stations are implementing changes that are ordered as a result of the repacking, and interference that will establish when LPTV and TV translator stations must cease operations post-auction to yield to new wireless users.
This series of actions show that the incentive auction is very much on track, and the FCC is pushing to wrap up all of its loose ends so that the auction can begin, as scheduled, in March of next year. TV stations should be making their plans for participation now, before the December filing deadline for the Form 177. Channel sharing agreements (see for instance our article here and here) that will allow two or more stations to cooperate on bidding during the auction, need to be completed and filed with the Form 177 by December 18, otherwise the rule against prohibited communications (see our article here) will shut down discussions between TV licensees who are participating in the auction and others who may convey information between such licensees. So it is definitely time to be planning your strategy now.