The road to the incentive auction’s anticipated start in March continues to be paved. With broadcasters who are intending to participate in the auction needing to file their initial Form 177 applications expressing that intent by January 12 (see our article here), the FCC has published instructions for completing the FCC Form 177 applications, providing an almost line-by-line explanation of the requirements for filing of the forms. These forms are to be filed by every licensee who is thinking about possibly offering their station up for any sort of compensation in the auction, whether that compensation is a total buy-out of their spectrum, or whether it is merely compensation for moving from a UHF channel to a digitally-less-desirable VHF channel. The full instructions for the form are available here and, as we wrote here, you can find a view of the form itself here (with the actual form not to be available until the window for filing that form opens on December 8).
To further explain the process, the FCC will be conducting a webinar on the reverse auction process on December 8 at 1 PM Eastern Time. Information and an agenda for the webinar were released yesterday, and can be found here. The webinar looks to be focusing on the nuts and bolts of the completion of the Form 177, a general overview of the auction process, the specific information sought by the Form including the filing of any channel sharing agreements, and the options for offering your station for buyout or move to VHF in the auction. The Public Notice also provides links to register for the auction and the web page from which the stream will originate (and at which it will be archived).
While procedurally, the auction marches on, substantive debates continue to flare up. The most recent one about which broadcasters should be aware is a concern over the time it will take broadcasters to repack their stations into a smaller TV band after the auction has been completed. The FCC’s current rules require that all stations be operating on their new channels within 39 months of the completion of the auction (see our presentation on the process, which we wrote about here). Yet, the NAB has recently filed a study with the FCC indicating that the process may take significantly longer than that – perhaps as much as three times that long depending on how many stations are ultimately repacked (a function of how much spectrum the FCC ultimately decides to buy, which won’t be decided until initial bids are actually placed by auction television auction participants at the end of March). The FCC Chairman recently said in Congressional testimony that the FCC will be flexible in allowing broadcasters the time that they need to change frequencies, details of that flexibility remain unclear.
No doubt this is not the last of the issues on the incentive auction that will arise. One of the next matters that may raise some controversy is the FCC’s final decision on how to deal with LPTV and TV translator stations after the auction (see our article here on some of the proposals for translators and LPTV pending before the FCC). The FCC’s list of items on circulation (meaning that the orders have been written and are being reviewed by the Commissioners and their staffs) currently lists an order dealing with LPTV and TV translator stations. We’ll see if that item is soon released and if it answers the questions of the treatment of these stations after the auction. Many issues remain in the few months before the auction begins – so look for more information coming your way quickly in the near future, with little rest for the holidays.