A big moving party is nearly ready to start, but this one won’t likely involve a cavalcade of moving vans.
The FCC announced Thursday (4/13) that some 957 non-winning stations participating in the FCC’s spectrum auction must change channels to clear the new wireless airwaves for use.
The first group of stations to move channels is scheduled for Nov. 30, 2018. Stations are required to provide 30 days’ notice, and to assist in the migration process the FCC has provided information for over-the-air viewers on how to “rescan” their receivers to find new channels, at www.fcc.gov/incentiveauctions/consumers.
Of course, unless a station is going off the air altogether, this will only impact the approximately 15% of Americans who consume TV channels via an over-the-air antenna.
“If you subscribe to a cable TV or satellite provider, they will make any necessary changes for you,” the FCC notes.
In a prepared statement, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called the conclusion of the world’s very first incentive auction “a major milestone in the FCC’s long history as steward of the nation’s airwaves.” He added, “Consumers are the real beneficiaries, as broadcasters invest new resources in programming and service, and additional wireless spectrum opens the way to greater competition and innovation in the mobile broadband marketplace.”
However, many auction observers viewed it as somewhat of a failure, as anticipated multi-billion bidding didn’t come to fruition. Senior FCC staffers participating in a Thursday midday press conference deflected queries on the results.
At $19.8 billion in gross revenue for 70MHz of spectrum, the incentive auction is among the highest grossing auctions ever conducted by the FCC. However, the clearing cost as of Stage 4 was “just” $10,054,676,822.
The result of Stage 3 bidding in the FCC Forward Auction: $19,676,240,520.
This was accomplished after bidding activity in the second stage of the FCC’s forward auction came to a screeching halt. With just one two-hour trading session, the Commission pulled the plug on further rounds, effectively ending the second stage of the forward auction much sooner than many had expected.
Stage 2 of the Forward Auction opened with a clearing target of $56.54 billion for 90 MHz of licensed spectrum. This target was $33.8 billion lower than the forward auction’s first stage clearing target of $88.38 billion.
“The broadcasters showed up and, except for T-Mobile, the carriers did not,” remarked Preston Padden, a respected former television station executive who is now an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado Law School. “[Incentive Auction Task Force Chair] Gary Epstein deserves an award for five years of public service.”
Time For Teamwork
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a science- and tech-policy think tank, feels otherwise.
“This auction was a great success,” Senior Telecom Policy Analyst Doug Brake said. “It transferred a record 70 MHz of nationwide spectrum below 1 GHz to licensed mobile broadband services, and transferred 14 more MHz for unlicensed use, rewarding broadcasters who decided to give up their spectrum rights in the process. It shows a two-sided auction is a practical mechanism for reallocating spectrum to new uses that can be employed in other circumstances or in other countries.”
The ITIF was also a bit more pragmatic in taking a “what now?” perspective following the release of the Incentive Auction results.