Jonathan Cohen, one of my partners at Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP, has been closely following the incentive auction by which the FCC is looking to clear a significant part of the television band and take that spectrum, slice it up into different size blocks, and resell it to wireless companies.  He has been guiding numerous companies through its complexities. We’ve written much about the auction on these pages, and now Jonathan offers these observations about the auction. – DDO

With the FCC’s Incentive Auction poised to move into its next phase with the August 16th start of active bidding in the forward auction, where companies looking to provide mobile broadband services will bid on licenses carved out of the spectrum vacated by TV broadcasters, we thought it might be helpful to address a few of the myths that seem to be floating around about the auction.

Myth:      In the initial stage of the reverse auction, broadcasters were greedy, demanding that the government pay $86.4 billion for their spectrum.

Reality:   This line of thinking demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the way the Incentive Auction was designed to work. In each round of the reverse auction, the FCC makes price offers to TV stations, who decide whether or not to accept them. Not the other way around. The FCC decided to set opening price offers at very high levels. The highest opening “go off-air” price offer was $900 million (for a station in New York City), but nine-figure opening offers were plentiful, including to a station in Ottumwa, Iowa (DMA #200). These high prices apparently encouraged a lot of stations to make the initial commitment to accept its opening price offer, which led the FCC to try to clear 126 MHz of spectrum in the initial stage – the most the rules would allow. Under the FCC’s auction design, as prices decline, a TV station can reject the FCC’s offer at any point, but the FCC can continue to reduce its clearing price offers to a station still in the auction only as long as it was still feasible to repack that station given all the other stations that would remain in operation after the auction. At the 126 MHz clearing target, only channels 14-29 are available in the repacked UHF band, and this apparently caused the auction prices for many stations to “freeze” at high levels (once it was determined that a station could no longer be repacked), resulting in the $86.4 billion total clearing cost announced at the end of June. For all we know, however, a great many TV stations that are now possible “winners” in the reverse auction might have been willing to keep accepting price offers below their frozen prices. It was the auction design – freezing station’s buy-out prices when that station could no longer be repacked – that set the prices, not the broadcasters.
Continue Reading Debunking a Few Myths about the FCC’s Incentive Auction

Can expenses incurred by a TV station now in making moves to prepare for the post-incentive auction repacking of the TV spectrum be reimbursed if that station in fact is forced to move after the auction?  In a clarification “Declaratory Ruling” released on Monday, the FCC said that they can – in an aim

The FCC has finalized the rules for its auction for about 130 new FM channels to be auctioned in July. The Order setting the rules for the auction is available here, and the list of channels to be sold, and the opening minimum bid for each such channel, is available here. The minimum bids also constitute the “upfront payments” which must be made before the auction in order to be able to bid on the channels in which you may be interested. We wrote about these channels here, when the FCC first proposed the auction. As can be seen by reviewing the list, while there are channels across the country, the greatest number of available channels, by far, is in Texas. As we noted when we first wrote about this auction, many of the channels cover small communities in rural areas, and some are leftovers that went unsold in previous auctions. But in every auction there are a few channels that may prove to have some value, so we expect that there will again be interest in many of those on the list. Such interest must be expressed through the filing of “short-form” Form 175 applications by May 28. The actual auction will begin on July 23.

The FCC also announced a freeze on the filing of FM construction permit applications for changes in existing stations from May 18 through May 28 to stabilize the FCC’s engineering database during the period when applicants will be filing their applications. As auction applicants can specify in their short-form applications transmitter sites to be protected, a minor change application by an existing station could end up mutually exclusive with a transmitter site specified by an auction applicant, meaning that the existing station could end up in the auction. To avoid that, the FCC has frozen minor change applications during the filing window.
Continue Reading FCC Sets Final Rules For Auction of New FM Stations – Applications Due By May 28, Filing Freeze on FM Minor Changes from May 18 through May 28

The FCC last week issued a Public Notice announcing the dismissal of approximately 3000 FM translator applications. This was as a result of its requirement that applicants from the 2003 FM Translator Window select no more than 70 total applications to prosecute (see our articles here and here), and no more than 3 in any

The dates and minimum bids are set – and the next auction for new FM stations is a go for September 1, 2009Applications to participate in the auction are due during the period June 16 to June 25, and must be filed electronically at the FCC, specifying on which of the 122 available channels an applicant is interested in bidding. Full, detailed auction instructions can be found in the FCC’s Public Notice, and the list of available channels and the minimum bids for each is available here. To give time for applicants to prepare their applications, the Commission has also initiated a variety of freezes on the filing of certain FM applications.

A freeze on any application or Petition for Rulemaking seeking a change in the channel of any channel proposed for use in this auction has been imposed effective immediately. Applications that shortspace any of the reference points for any of these stations are also barred. A subsequent freeze on the filing of any minor change application by an FM licensee will also be imposed during the June window. These freezes are to give applicants for channels the opportunity to evaluate which channels are worth bidding for, and to specify specific transmitter sites for certain channels (different than the reference coordinates) which will be protected during the auction process. Thus, applicants who see the potential for an increase in value of one of these channels that may come through the location of the station at a particular transmitter site can specify that site, protecting it and the value that they see. 


Continue Reading Rules for September Auction for New FM Stations Set – Application Filing Deadline Is June 25