The FCC has released its agenda for its September meeting, and it is an important one for television broadcasters. On the agenda for the meeting to be held this Friday, September 28, is a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to seek comments on its proposals to implement the Congressional authority to hold incentive auctions to clear part of the television spectrum so that the spectrum can be used for wireless broadband purposes (see our summary of the legislative authority here). Obviously, this will decision will be important for the television industry, as well as for companies looking to deploy additional wireless broadband and those hoping to reach consumers using wireless broadband.
This proceeding will necessarily be very complex, as it will need to design a system that will take into account many moving parts. First, it will need to take bids from those television stations that are willing to turn in their licenses, or to share spectrum with another station or move to a VHF channel – all of which might qualify the station for compensation. While keeping these bids secret, the Commission must also take bids to buy the cleared spectrum from wireless companies. The Commission needs to determine if enough money will be received from these bids to pay for stations to turn in their licenses, to repack the remaining TV stations into a smaller television band that will free some television channels to allow for a contiguous swath of spectrum that the wireless operators can use, to pay the auction costs, and to pay for certain public safety wireless uses that are to be subsidized by the auction proceeds. The Commission will also have to design a process for repacking TV stations into a smaller television band, in many ways replicating the process that the FCC went through when it compacted the TV spectrum during the digital transition.
The implementation of the incentive auction is a high priority for the current Commission. See this statement released earlier in the month by Chairman Genachowski about the importance of this proceeding. There are many unknowns – including whether there will be enough interest from buyers to pay all the costs of clearing the spectrum (a Bloomberg News article going so far as to suggest a government agency might bid on the spectrum to set a floor and insure that the spectrum is purchased). The press is already buzzing about what is in store for this proceeding, and we are sure to see lots more speculation about how events will play out once the formal FCC proposals for the auction are released. So watch the many sources of news that will be available following Friday’s meeting for more details of this most important proceeding, and watch as the proceeding develops over the next several months as the FCC makes its decisions in this most important proceeding.