In a development described by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler as a “watershed moment” that “[fires] the starting gun” on the incentive auction, the FCC released a set of public notices late last week that (1) outline final opening bid prices for broadcast industry participants in the reverse phase of the auction, and (2) set forth deadlines for the filing of auction applications by broadcasters and wireless carriers.
Late last Thursday, the FCC issued its long-anticipated public notice on incentive auction application procedures, including the schedule for mock auctions and related events in addition to filing windows for reverse and forward auction applications. Broadcasters that elect to participate in the auction must submit FCC Form 177 auction applications during a filing window that opens on December 1 and closes on December 18. A tutorial on online bidding and post-auction processes will be offered to broadcasters on February 29, and participating broadcasters will be required to commit by March 29 to one of three spectrum relinquishment options: (1) go off the air, (2) move station operations to a low VHF channel, or (3) move operations to a high VHF channel. The FCC will announce initial spectrum clearing targets and band plans within four weeks of the March 29 commitment deadline, after which the FCC will schedule mock auctions for qualified applicants.
Prospective wireless industry participants in the forward auction will be required to file Form 175 applications with the FCC between January 14 and January 28. An online pre-auction tutorial will be offered to prospective bidders on January 7, and the FCC will conduct an online bidding and postauction tutorial for interested parties on February 29. A separate public notice will be issued to announce the deadline for upfront payments, and the FCC will announce the start date of the “clock phase” auction at the time it issues a public notice listing the qualified bidders. Mock auctions will also take place in the spring after spectrum clearing targets and band plans are announced.
Meanwhile, in a separate public notice issued last Friday, the FCC disclosed final opening bid prices for broadcast stations in markets throughout the U.S. The opening bids, which represent the maximum amount broadcasters would receive for relinquishing their spectrum during the reverse auction, range from a high of $900 million for WCBS-TV in New York City to a low of approximately $1.2 million for KXGN-TV in the rural community of Glendive, Montana. In each round, broadcasters would receive the highest available bid amount for going off of the air and would receive lesser amounts for moving to low VHF spectrum or to high VHF spectrum. (In the case of WCBS-TV, the station owners would receive $675 million during the opening round for moving to low VHF spectrum or $360 million for moving to high VHF spectrum.) No bid prices are listed, however, for 320 broadcast stations for which the FCC has determined “that the station will always have a feasible channel assignment in its preauction band at all of the possible auction clearing targets.” For each of these stations, the FCC concluded it can rearrange stations in the market without having to acquire the spectrum of that station. National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) executive vice president Dennis Wharton declined comment, noting that the NAB “is reviewing this document.”