In a Public Notice released yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission asked for comments on several possible plans for reorganizing the spectrum currently used by television broadcasters. Initial comments are due June 14, with reply comments due June 28.

Under a statute passed last year, broadcast television stations will be allowed to voluntarily participate in an auction of their spectrum to mobile broadband providers, after which the FCC will involuntarily repack remaining television stations into a smaller television spectrum band. Continue Reading SpectrumWatch: FCC Considers Alternative Band Plans for Post-Incentive Auction Spectrum

As we reported previously, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Matter of Expanding the Economic and Innovation Opportunities of Spectrum Through Incentive Auctions (“NPRM”), along with an accompanying paper by auction specialists Auctionomics and Power Auctions.

In this post, we describe the proposed rules for the incentive auction and the “repacking” of broadcast spectrum. The incentive auction is made up of three parts: (1) a reverse auction, in which broadcasters may bid to sell spectrum rights; (2) a forward auction, in which mobile carriers may bid to purchase spectrum rights; and (3) a repacking process, in which the FCC will reconfigure broadcast television allotments to take up a smaller portion of the UHF band ― thereby maximizing the amount of spectrum that could be made available in the forward auction.

As the NPRM explains, all three of these pieces are interdependent.  “[T]he amount of spectrum available in the forward auction will depend on reverse auction bids and repacking, winning reverse auction bidders will be paid from the forward auction proceeds, and our repacking methodology will help to determine which reverse auction bids we accept and what channels we assign the broadcast stations that remain on the air.  For the incentive auction to succeed, all three pieces must work together.”

Continue Reading Spectrum Watch: A Closer Look at the FCC’s Proposed Rules for First-Ever Incentive Auction and Repacking of Broadcast Spectrum

Yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released the full text of its widely-anticipated proposed rules for an incentive auction of television spectrum and broadcast “repacking” process that will accompany the auction.  (The FCC had voted to adopt these proposed rules on Friday, but had not released the text until yesterday.)  The proposed rules address three principal issues: (1) the reverse auction, whereby broadcasters would voluntarily agree to return all or a portion of their spectrum in exchange for a share of proceeds from the forward auction; (2) the forward auction, wherein wireless carriers bid on the freed-up broadcast spectrum; and (3) the (involuntary) repacking of broadcast spectrum to into a smaller television band.

Of important note, the FCC anticipates a relatively fast-moving process that aims to hold the incentive auction in 2014, with the repacking following thereafter. This goal means that the FCC would have to adopt incentive auction rules by the middle of 2013.  Comments in response to the NPRM are due December 21, 2012 and reply comments are due February 19, 2012.

Continue Reading SpectrumWatch: FCC Initiates Incentive Auction Rulemaking

Welcome to the first post in our SpectrumWatch series, which will provide updates on developments in spectrum policy and regulation.

Earlier this year Congress passed legislation authorizing the FCC to create the first-of-its-kind incentive auction, in which TV broadcasters may bid on compensation to give up spectral license rights for auction to mobile wireless carriers.  The incentive auction and its outcome have important stakes for broadcasters ― both those who volunteer to sell their spectrum rights at auction and those who are “repacked” to a new channel assignment ― as well as wireless carriers, who are depending upon the auction to make additional spectrum available for 4G networks.

Throughout the summer the FCC has been working hard to develop proposals for the rules that will govern the auction, which by all accounts will be the most complex spectrum auction since the FCC first gained auction authority in 1993.  We expect the FCC to release those proposals and solicit comment on them as early as next month.

By way of background, the incentive auction legislation directs the FCC to create two auction processes.  First, broadcasters may bid in a “reverse” auction on the compensation they would be willing to accept to relinquish spectrum rights.  Broadcasters may offer to relinquish all of their spectrum rights on a channel, relinquish some spectrum rights and channel share, or move from UHF to VHF (which has inferior propagation characteristics for digital television).  Second, mobile broadband service providers bid in a “forward” auction to buy the newly-available licenses.

The legislation also authorizes the FCC to engage in a one-time “repacking” of the television spectrum band.  The FCC’s repacking authority is subject to protections intended to ensure that broadcasters who do not participate in the auction can continue to provide free over-the-air service to their communities.  In addition, Congress established a $1.75 billion fund to cover repacking relocation costs for broadcasters.

The FCC currently is preparing to take important steps to bring the incentive auction to life.  It has already formed the Incentive Auction Task Force.    The issues to be tackled in the proposed rules are some of the most complex in spectrum history — for example, the sequencing and matching up of ‘reverse’ bids by broadcasters with ‘forward’ bids by wireless carriers potentially creates a challenging “chicken-and-egg” problem that will require innovative solutions.  We understand that the FCC has been hard at work throughout the summer in developing proposals to that end, which as noted will be unveiled as early as September.  Once those rules are released, a host of interested stakeholders will weigh in with their comments — leading, all parties hope, to an incentive auction that serves the interests of broadcasters, wireless carriers, and the public at large.  We will continue to update you on the incentive auction process as it develops.

The FCC Media Bureau’s designated May 29, 2015 “Pre-Auction Licensing Deadline” is rapidly approaching.  Full power and Class A facilities must be licensed by this deadline in order to be eligible for protection in the repacking process that will be part of the television incentive auction. For these purposes, facilities subject to a pending application for a license to cover the pertinent construction permit will be deemed to be “licensed.”

While Class A licensees may wait until the September 1, 2015 low power digital transition deadline to complete construction and license their digital facilities, those that do not have their digital facilities licensed by May 29, 2015 will be afforded protection in the repacking process based only on the coverage area and population served by their analog facilities.  (Class A stations that may be unable to complete construction of their digital facilities by September 1 must seek an extension of the digital construction deadline by tomorrow, Friday, May 1.)

The Federal Communications Commission received over 300 comments from the public regarding its proposals to allow broadcast television stations to voluntarily participate in an auction of their spectrum to mobile broadband providers and to involuntarily repack remaining television stations into a smaller television spectrum band.  Broadcast television station groups, individual stations, mobile broadband providers, wireless microphone operators, proponents of unlicensed spectrum uses, equipment manufacturers, radio astronomers, wireless medical device makers, and a variety of trade associations weighed in on the Commission’s proposals.  There was significant disagreement on a number of the FCC’s proposals — including the extent to which viewers’ existing television services should be preserved in the repacking, the timeframe to complete the repacking, and how to address wireless microphones and unlicensed uses in the spectrum band.  However, at least three key areas of general industry agreement emerged:

Continue Reading SpectrumWatch: 3 Key Areas of Industry Agreement Regarding the FCC’s Spectrum Auction and Repacking Proposals

This week the United Kingdom completed its five-year transition from analog to digital broadcast television operations.  The switch to digital has allowed broadcasters in the UK to offer more channels and high-definition television services to the public.  In addition, the transition freed up spectrum that the UK government will auction for fourth generation (4G) mobile broadband services in the upcoming year. 

Continue Reading Spectrum Watch: UK Completes Digital Television Transition, With Plans to Auction Freed Up Spectrum for 4G Services Within a Year

 The FCC today released details for its October 26th Broadcaster Learn Everything About Reverse-Auctions Now (“LEARN”) Program Workshop, to be held in the Commission Meeting Room at the FCC’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. and webcast live at    The workshop is the first in a series that seeks to provide broadcasters guidance on the incentive auction process, about which we have reported previously. The released agenda, provided below, covers issues of interest to both potential broadcast participants in the auction and those that may be affected by the repacking process. 

 October 26th Agenda

 1:30 – 1:35 Welcoming Remarks

                        Commissioner Mignon Clyburn

 1:35 – 1:45 Overview: How the Pieces Fit Together

                        Gary Epstein, Chair, Incentive Auction Task Force

 1:45 – 2:00 Reverse Auction Design Proposals

                        Brett Tarnutzer, Chief Data Officer, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau

 2:00 – 2:15 Station Eligibility

                        Bill Lake, Chief, Media Bureau

 2:15 – 2:30 Forward Auction and New Band Plans

                        Ruth Milkman, Chief, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau

 2:30 – 2:45 Interference Proposals and Repacking

                        Julie Knapp, Chief, Office of Engineering and Technology

 2:45 – 3:15 Questions: Moderator

                        Rebecca Hanson, Senior Advisor, Media

Questions from the Internet audience can be submitted anonymously via email to and via Twitter using the hashtag: #fcclive.


Last week, the FCC released a Public Notice (“PN”), following up on its July Public Notice, concerning the software to be used during the Incentive Auction to determine whether the acceptance of each bid from a broadcaster will result in a feasible, and optimal, repacking process.

Continue Reading SpectrumWatch: FCC Releases Information Related to Repacking Process

A congressional subcommittee held an oversight hearing Tuesday addressing the Federal Communications Commission’s progress in setting rules for the upcoming incentive auction of television broadcast spectrum for mobile broadband use. On Monday, the FCC released a Public Notice addressing one aspect of those rules, which would govern how TV stations that do not sell their spectrum would be assigned new channels. This process is known as the “repacking” of the broadcast spectrum.

Also Tuesday, a Senate bill that would encourage cable and satellite operators to allow subscribers to purchase channels a la carte picked up its first Democratic co-sponsor, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Continue Reading SpectrumWatch: Congress, FCC Consider Options for TV Spectrum Repacking, Cable Pricing