As expected, and as we wrote last week, the FCC announced Friday that the reverse auction phase of Stage 4 of the Incentive Auction will begin tomorrow, December 12, 2016. The FCC also, as expected, confirmed that the clearing target will be 84 MHz, meaning that the FCC will be looking to
While we are into the holiday season, that does not stop the routine regulatory obligations for broadcasters. December 1 brings a host of routine obligations for stations in many states. EEO public file reports must be added to the public files of Commercial and Noncommercial Full-Power and Class A Television Stations and AM and FM Radio Stations in Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Vermont that are part of an Employment Unit with 5 or more full-time employees. Of course, for TV stations and radio stations that have already converted to the online public file, that will mean uploading those reports to the FCC-hosted public file. For all stations, a link needs to be included on the main page of your station website, if your station has a website, which leads to these reports. Mid-Term EEO Reports on FCC Form 397 must be filed with the FCC by December 1 by radio employment units with 11 or more full-time employees in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota and television employment units with five or more full-time employees in Alabama and Georgia. For more on these Mid-Term Reports, see our article here.
A year from now, on December 1, 2017, all broadcast stations are expected to be required to file Biennial Ownership Reports, including noncommercial stations which now have those reports due on the anniversary date of the filing of their license renewal applications. See our article here on the new obligation that will be effective next year, though appeals of that requirement from some noncommercial groups are pending (see our article here). But, until that rule is effective, non-commercial stations need to continue to file on their renewal anniversary dates. Thus, on December 1 of this year, Noncommercial Television Stations in Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont and Noncommercial AM and FM Radio Stations in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota have the obligation to submit their Biennial Ownership Reports to the FCC.
Continue Reading December Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – EEO Reports, Ownership and Ancillary Revenue Reports, Ownership Review and Incentive Auction Updates
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
While summer has just about arrived, FCC regulatory dates do not depart to the beach and leave the world behind. Instead, there are a host of filing deadlines this month. EEO Public Inspection file reports must, by June 1, be placed in the public inspection files of stations that are part of employment units with 5 or more full-time employees if the stations are located in the following states: Arizona, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia. Radio stations in Michigan and Ohio that are part of employment units with 11 or more full-time employees need to also file an FCC Mid-Term EEO Report on FCC Form 397 (see our article on the Form 397 here). TV stations with 5 or more employees also need to file that report if they are located in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia or the District of Columbia.
There are regular dates, too, for noncommercial stations in certain states when licensees must file their Biennial Ownership Reports on FCC Form 323E. While these reports will eventually be filed on December 1 of odd-numbered years, at the same time as Biennial Ownership Reports of commercial stations, at this point the new rules have not yet gone into effect (see our articles here and here). Thus, by June 1, the licensees of noncommercial radio stations in Michigan and Ohio and noncommercial TV stations in Arizona, Idaho, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia must file their Biennial Ownership Reports.
Continue Reading June Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – EEO and Noncommercial Ownership Reports, Incentive Auction, Radio Online Public File, and Comments on EAS and Regulatory Fees
Yesterday, the FCC released a Public Notice setting out the agenda for the May 24 Workshop to explain the process of bidding in the reverse auction. The reverse auction is of course when broadcasters can bid to surrender their current channel to the FCC so that the FCC can repackage the surrendered spectrum and…
This morning, the FCC released a Public Notice, announcing that the spectrum clearing target for the initial stage of the Incentive Auction will be 126 MHz. That means, that if the Incentive Auction is completed in the initial stage with the 126 MHz spectrum clearing target, TV channels 30-36 and 38-51 will be reallocated for mobile broadband and unlicensed wireless services, leaving UHF channels 14-29 for broadcast TV stations (along with VHF channels 2-13 which are not being auctioned). Channel 37 will remain allocated for wireless medical telemetry and radioastronomy services, with unlicensed services permitted. This is the maximum amount of spectrum that the FCC had initially indicated that it would potentially reclaim from broadcasters.
The Public Notice also announces that the actual bidding in the reverse auction, the so-called “clock rounds,” will begin on May 31, 2016. The initial two days of the auction will have one round per day, with subsequent days speeding up to have at least two rounds per day until further notice from the FCC’s Wireless Bureau which administers the auction.
Continue Reading 126 MHz Incentive Auction Clearing Target Set – Reverse Auction for TV Stations to Bid to Surrender their Spectrum to Wireless Users to Begin May 31
May is one of those off months in which there are not the kind of routine filings that pop up in most other months – no EEO Public File Reports, no quarterly issues programs lists or children’s television reports, no Biennial Ownership Reports for noncommercial stations (which will soon disappear anyway when noncommercial stations transition to the same biennial report deadline as commercial broadcasters – see our articles here and here). Clearly, the big event for TV will be the likely start of the bidding in the “reverse auction” part of the TV incentive auction. For radio, the big activity will be around the continuing window for AM stations to buy FM translators to move to their communities (see our article here). And, as we wrote in our Broadcasters Calendar here, there are also a number of lowest unit rate windows in the states in which the final Presidential primaries are being held.
There are not even that many comment dates in proceedings of importance to broadcasters. Perhaps the most important is the preliminary comments on the proposed ATSC 3.0 transmission standard for the next generation of television (see our articles here and here). These initial comments are due on May 26.
Continue Reading May Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Incentive Auction, Comments on EAS, ATSC 3.0 and Set Top Boxes
At the NAB Convention last week, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler discussed the timing of the incentive auction and how some of the remaining issues may soon be resolved. One subject of talk in a number of NAB sessions, as well as in the trade publications, has been how the repacking of broadcast television spectrum will proceed after the auction. Even FM broadcasters noted the potential for disruption of their operations as the repacking may affect shared users of broadcast towers, and given that hundreds of TV stations potentially face changing out antennas to operate on new channels in the smaller post-auction television band.
The Chairman made clear that the FCC will be announcing soon, perhaps as early as this week, the “spectrum clearing target” for the auction. In other words, the FCC will be announcing how much of the TV band it intends to try to clear for wireless broadband uses, based on how many TV stations expressed interest in potentially taking a buyout of their spectrum in their commitments filed at the end of last month. After the targets are announced, the FCC will quickly begin the reverse auction, a process where, round by round, the FCC will lower the prices offered to TV stations to abandon their spectrum until the FCC has committed to buy just the right amount of spectrum to meet its clearing targets. Then, it will turn around and repackage and resell that spectrum to wireless companies in the “forward auction.” The Chairman indicated that the clearing target may also signal the answers to many other issues.
Continue Reading As Incentive Auction Draws Near, Focus Begins to Shift to TV Spectrum Repacking – and Even FM Broadcasters Take Note of Potential Issues
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).
Continue Reading No Holidays for the Incentive Auction – Instructions and a Webinar for Broadcasters Who Plan to Enter the Auction and Disputes Over Repacking and LPTV