October 28, 2014 — The FCC has decided to delay the auction of 600 MHz band spectrum until early in 2016, according to a blog by Gary Epstein, chair of the FCC’s Incentive Auction Task Force, for reasons related to a lawsuit filed by the National Association of Broadcasters last August.
Epstein pointed to the uncertainty introduced by the litigation as well as the timing of the tort. Final briefs in the NAB’s proceeding are not due until late January 2015 and a decision is not expected until mid-2015.
“Amidst this multi-front progress, however, there are undeniable impediments to our efforts to implement a successful auction,” Epstein wrote. “We are confident we will prevail in court, but given the reality of that schedule, the complexity of designing and implementing the auction, and the need for all auction participants to have certainty well in advance of the auction, we now anticipate accepting applications for the auction in the fall of 2015 and starting the auction in early 2016.”
NAB filed a petition for review on Aug. 18 with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit saying the FCC’s May 2014 broadcast spectrum incentive auction order could cause broadcast TV stations to lose audience and that it was not truly a voluntary proceeding.
“Under this new methodology, many broadcast licensees, including NAB’s members, will lose coverage area and population served during the auction’s repacking and reassignment process, or be forced to participate in the auction (and relinquish broadcast spectrum rights),” the NAB lawsuit stated.
Additionally, the NAB said the FCC failed to protect broadcast translators, which help boost the coverage of broadcast TV programming to rural and remove viewers.
Back in June, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler called the incentive auction an innovative approach that married the wireless providers’ needs for spectrum with the economics of television broadcasters, which demands the “robust participation” of the broadcasters to be successful.
“The auction is a risk-free, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for broadcasters, but the decision of whether or not to participate is completely voluntary and confidential,” he wrote.
CTIA-The Wireless Association Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Scott Bergmann said the delay was unfortunate but understandable given the cloud that litigation casts on an FCC proceeding.
“Today’s action underscores the need to resolve the pending litigation over the FCC’s rules expeditiously. When the auction is held, mobile companies will have their checkbooks ready to participate in this critical auction that will be key to our nation’s wireless future,” he said.
J. Sharpe Smith is the editor of AGL Link and Small Cell Link.