A big moving party is nearly ready to start, but this one won’t likely involve a cavalcade of moving vans.
The FCC announced Thursday (4/13) that some 957 non-winning stations participating in the FCC’s spectrum auction must change channels to clear the new wireless airwaves for use.
The first group of stations to move channels is scheduled for Nov. 30, 2018. Stations are required to provide 30 days’ notice, and to assist in the migration process the FCC has provided information for over-the-air viewers on how to “rescan” their receivers to find new channels, at www.fcc.gov/incentiveauctions/consumers.
Of course, unless a station is going off the air altogether, this will only impact the approximately 15% of Americans who consume TV channels via an over-the-air antenna.
“If you subscribe to a cable TV or satellite provider, they will make any necessary changes for you,” the FCC notes.
In a prepared statement, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called the conclusion of the world’s very first incentive auction “a major milestone in the FCC’s long history as steward of the nation’s airwaves.” He added, “Consumers are the real beneficiaries, as broadcasters invest new resources in programming and service, and additional wireless spectrum opens the way to greater competition and innovation in the mobile broadband marketplace.”
However, many auction observers viewed it as somewhat of a failure, as anticipated multi-billion bidding didn’t come to fruition. Senior FCC staffers participating in a Thursday midday press conference deflected queries on the results.
At $19.8 billion in gross revenue for 70MHz of spectrum, the incentive auction is among the highest grossing auctions ever conducted by the FCC. However, the clearing cost as of Stage 4 was “just” $10,054,676,822.
The result of Stage 3 bidding in the FCC Forward Auction: $19,676,240,520.
This was accomplished after bidding activity in the second stage of the FCC’s forward auction came to a screeching halt. With just one two-hour trading session, the Commission pulled the plug on further rounds, effectively ending the second stage of the forward auction much sooner than many had expected.
Stage 2 of the Forward Auction opened with a clearing target of $56.54 billion for 90 MHz of licensed spectrum. This target was $33.8 billion lower than the forward auction’s first stage clearing target of $88.38 billion.
“The broadcasters showed up and, except for T-Mobile, the carriers did not,” remarked Preston Padden, a respected former television station executive who is now an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado Law School. “[Incentive Auction Task Force Chair] Gary Epstein deserves an award for five years of public service.”
Time For Teamwork
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a science- and tech-policy think tank, feels otherwise.
“This auction was a great success,” Senior Telecom Policy Analyst Doug Brake said. “It transferred a record 70 MHz of nationwide spectrum below 1 GHz to licensed mobile broadband services, and transferred 14 more MHz for unlicensed use, rewarding broadcasters who decided to give up their spectrum rights in the process. It shows a two-sided auction is a practical mechanism for reallocating spectrum to new uses that can be employed in other circumstances or in other countries.”
The ITIF was also a bit more pragmatic in taking a “what now?” perspective following the release of the Incentive Auction results.
Brake urged both the FCC and broadcasters to keep the forward momentum now that the auction is over.
“Much remains to be done before this spectrum can be put to more productive use,” Brake said. “The FCC and other stakeholders must work together to ensure hasty deployment of this spectrum so that consumers and the entire economy can reap the benefits as quickly as possible.”
Brake added that the benefits to broadband users and the economy flow not just from spectrum being transferred, but its actual use—”equipment must be built out and turned on,” he said. Before this can happen, however, “affected broadcasting services must be re-organized to fit within remaining spectrum.”
At the same time, the ITIF’s Brake admits that the “repack” of affected TV stations will be “a complicated, coordinated process achieved over several phases to minimize disruption to broadcasters, but the sooner it moves forward the better. The faster the repacking process takes place, clearing this fresh spectrum to be put into service, the sooner we see the true benefits of this historic auction.”
Pai concurs. The FCC Chairman said, “While we celebrate reaching the official close of the auction, there is still much work ahead of us. It’s now imperative that we move forward with equal zeal to ensure a successful post-auction transition, including a smooth and efficient repacking process.
“This day has been a long time coming,” he continued. “We congratulate all bidders who were successful in the incentive auction, and we applaud all of those past and present Commission staffers who worked so diligently on every aspect of this complex undertaking. We have only reached this point because of their tremendous skill and dedication to this groundbreaking endeavor. ”
MyNetwork Affiliate To Go Dark
A Michigan UHF serving the cities of Jackson and Lansing has confirmed that it will cease broadcasting as a result of the spectrum auction.
WHTV-18, licensed to Jackson, serves the Lansing DMA as its MyNetwork affiliate. It is presently operated by E.W. Scripps Co. via an LMA with the station’s owner, Los Angeles-based Venture Technologies Group.
At midnight on April 30, WHTV will go off the air, the station noted on its website, which features a lengthy description of the broadcast incentive auction.
WHTV offered no comment on why it was signing off, only stating, “We really appreciate everyone who has viewed us over the years.”
Meanwhile, MLive reports that Scripps’ FOX affiliate in Lansing, WSYM-47, is moving its digital channel from 38 to 28; its PSIP is expected to remain Channel 47.
Be sure to visit RBR.com on Friday, April 14, for additional coverage of the FCC’s incentive auction’s conclusion.