As wireless industry bidding continued in the forward phase of the incentive auction, the FCC Media Bureau issued a public notice last Friday which lays out the agency’s plan for repacking television stations during the 39-month transition period following the auction’s conclusion. Total gross bids in the forward auction, which moved earlier this week to four rounds per day, climbed to nearly $19.2 billion late yesterday. The forward auction will continue until no new bids are posted for any markets. Broadcasters will receive a $10 billion cut of the proceeds which represents the clearing cost established last month during the fourth stage of the reverse auction.
Friday’s public notice adopts, with certain modifications, the ten-phase transition plan which had been proposed by the FCC last September. The plan includes (1) a Phase Assignment Tool under which the FCC will determine at which phase specific stations will have to relocate to new channels, and (2) a Phase Scheduling Tool through which the FCC will estimate the amount of time stations need in each phase to complete certain tasks. At the earliest opportunity after final channel assignments are determined (a process triggered by the fulfillment of the forward auction final stage rule on January 18), the public notice states that the Media Bureau “will use the Phase Assignment Tool to assign a transition phase to each eligible full channel and Class A television station that receives a new post-auction channel as a result of the final channel assignment determination procedure.” The FCC will deliver to each eligible station a confidential letter identifying their post-auction channel assignments, assigned transition phase and technical parameters, and the agency reasoned that providing such information to affected licensees “as early as possible after the final stage rule is reached will facilitate early planning and provide additional time for stations to prepare construction permit applications.”
With respect to the Phase Scheduling Tool, the public notice states that simulations will be used “to produce an estimate of the average amount of time, in weeks, it will take all stations to complete their transition.” While all ten transition phases will begin at the same time, the FCC said that the Media Bureau will assign a completion date to each phase that will be based on certain “detailed inputs” and will also be based “on the average number of weeks determined by the Phase Scheduling Tool.” Although requests to modify a station’s assignment phase will be subject “to a high burden of proof,” broadcasters will be permitted to seek the use of temporary channels or share channels on a temporary basis during the transition process. Because the forward auction final stage rule has already been met, the FCC said it would consider granting “some relief from the prohibition for communications among broadcasters” while the forward auction remains in progress, “particularly where doing so would assist the public interest in a smooth post-auction transition.” As Scott Bergman, the vice president of regulatory affairs for wireless association CTIA, praised the FCC for “keeping the auction and transition on track,” NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton told reporters, “we look forward to working with the new Commission leadership to develop a workable transition plan that is . . . fair to all stakeholders.”