Broadcast concerns factored into FCC incentive auctions


FCC Commissioners / May 2012The incentive auction program to repurpose television spectrum for wireless broadband is the first of its kind in history. The FCC is hoping to have a Report on Order next year and an auction in 2014, and is counting on broadcasters to help it hit those deadlines.

Despite the tight target dates, most at the FCC who had access to a microphone noted that this is just a starting point. Stakeholders were universally encouraged to participate; in fact, Ajit Pai said that comments will be much more important in this proceeding than most.

The complexity of the proceeding is underscored by the fact that it involves three FCC Bureaus: Wireless, Broadcasting and Engineering and Technology.

Here is a summary of the NPRM as presented during the meeting.

* US is world leader in wireless
* Usage is skyrocketing, increasing demand on spectrum
* Challenge to keep pace
* Incentive auctions were introduced in 2010 NBP
* Television operators can exchange spectrum for a share of the auction proceeds
* First such auction ever attempted
* Presents financial opportunities for participating broadcasters while protecting those that remain in business.
* Broadcaster-run program being set up to assist broadcasters in their decision making process
* Repacking, open transparent process, user-friendly participation, all complexity resident on Commission side.
* Reverse auction bid options to be examined
* Repacking – organizing broadcast television band in smaller hole to open up contiguous band for repurposing.
* Will ask how to implement Congress’s mandate to protect coverage area of remaining stations – all stakeholders will be engaged, all will have a chance to comment
* Auction design must be flexible because it cannot be known precisely in advance how much spectrum will be available.
* Repurposing target area will begin at 51 and work down to 37 depending on availability; repacking at 36 on down.
* White spaces will continue to be available, also wireless mics – will try to have two channels reserved for these uses
* FCC expects input from all interested parties and move expeditiously
* Report & Order during 2013, incentive auction during 2014

Here are summaries of the Commissioners’ comments.
* Robert McDowell: This will be a huge undertaking – this is just the beginning. Many proposals, even more questions at this point – we don’t yet know where the facts will take us. This will be the most complex spectrum auction in history – should measure twice before making the cut. Wants new rules to avoid over-engineering, to be minimal and intuitive.
* Mignon Clyburn: Avoiding spectrum crunch is an important goal. Demand is insatiable. Leap forward will require patience and cooperation with broadcasters. And while broadcast anxiety remains, the word “voluntary” is the most important word in this plan. Reverse auction, repacking, forward auction are the keys, all relevant parties must be engaged as these steps are designed.
* Jessica Rosenworcel: Cells and tablets are huge, and machine-to-machine wireless applications are going to grow as well, which is why we need this auction. Calls for a bias toward simplicity. Making it easy for broadcasters should yield more spectrum for auction. Outreach, both in and out of Washington, will be essential. Repacking should minimize disruption and maximize ability of public to continue receiving free OTA TV. Work with Canada, Mexico is essential. Broadcasters should look to ways to strengthen their service during this process. Guiding principles: Simplicity, fairness (to broadcasters), balance.
* Ajit Pai: Many pieces of this puzzle must fit together for this to work. If we make the right decisions, the puzzle pieces will fit seamlessly. Get it wrong will have a complicated model with poor results. Wants a wide range of input – the comment part will be especially important in this proceeding. “You need to tell us, and we need to listen.” Pai said he wants clarification on a large number of items, one of them being the $1.75M that may go to broadcasters. His guiding principles: be faithful to statute, be fair to stakeholders, keep it simple, and get it done in a reasonable time frame.
* Julius Genachowski: US is the first nation in the world to hold incentive auctions; the world is watching. This is part of a global bandwidth race. US has regained leadership in mobile, and auctions will help keep us there. Thanks both commerce committees in Congress for making the necessary law. Says the spectrum crunch is real. Freeing up “beachfront” spectrum is a key. Looks to maximize broadcast participation by making the auction as simple as possible, keeping focus on the engineering and economics. Says this proposal offers opportunity for broadcasters – many benefits maybe realized as broadcasters begin to offer mobile services. Looks forward to broadcaster comments and believes a key is the FCC plan to actively engage broadcasters throughout the auction design process.

RBR-TVBR observation: We like the word Commissioner Mignon Clyburn chose to emphasize when discussing broadcast participation. The word was “voluntary.”
We note, if we understand correctly at this early juncture, that the plan calls for taking design steps after it is known how much spectrum will be available for auction, rather than saying X amount of spectrum will be available, the question being how to force broadcasters to accommodate that amount. That’s a good thing.

Here’s the big question: Is this a work in progress? The short answer is yes. Commissioner Pai had far more questions than comments, and the universal call for stakeholder commentary indicates that there is still plenty of wiggle room in this proceeding.

It’s going to be just like a wedding – speak now or forever hold your peace.