In a highly-anticipated development, the FCC announced today that it had set an initial spectrum clearing target of 126 MHz for the incentive auction, which will provide wireless industry bidders with access to 100 MHz of surrendered broadcast television spectrum in most markets nationwide. The 126 MHz clearing target represents the maximum amount of spectrum the FCC had expected to recoup from broadcasters and thus significantly raises prospects for a successful auction outcome.

As FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler remarked in a press statement that the announcement “reflects the voluntary decision by many broadcasters that this auction truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” FCC officials confirmed that the resulting 600 MHz band plan will enable the sale of up to ten paired 10 MHz blocks in each of the 416 designated economic areas nationwide, for a total of 4,048 licenses. Ninety-nine percent of these licenses have been classified as unimpaired, or not subject to potential interference from television broadcast stations that operate in the wireless spectrum bands. The remaining licenses have been classified as up to 15% impaired, or between 15% and 30% impaired. (Only 18 licenses nationwide fall within the 15-30% impaired category.) Agency officials further indicated that ten spectrum blocks (with varying degrees of impairment) will be offered in 91% of the 416 markets nationwide, with 97% of markets to feature at least eight spectrum blocks for sale.

With the band plan and clearing target now in place, the FCC also set May 31 as the start of the clock phase of the reverse auction, which will determine the price at which participating broadcasters will voluntarily relinquish their spectrum usage rights. Wireless carriers, meanwhile, will have the opportunity to bid on surrendered broadcast spectrum assets during the forward phase of the auction, which has yet to be scheduled but is expected to begin this summer. As National Association of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith related how “broadcasters are excited that the TV auction process is moving forward,” Preston Padden, the former executive director of the Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition, hailed the clearing target as a “spectrum extravaganza” which constitutes a “testament to years of hard work by the FCC commissioners and staff.”