What to Expect When You Are Expecting

For those interested in the voluntary broadcast spectrum incentive auction, this should be an interesting week at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). At the FCC’s monthly meeting, the Commission’s staff will lay out its timeline and project plan for the upcoming auction. This update should be helpful, as all stakeholders seek to get a better handle on what to expect next. Most of all, we hope that the staff seizes this opportunity to go beyond a discussion of dates and timelines – auction timelines have garnered the bulk of the headlines so far – and delve into their current thinking on the substance of the auction and its components. This week’s meeting comes nearly 500 days after the incentive auction Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) was adopted, and the FCC has since collected approximately 350 ex parte submissions and 375 written comments on the subject. The time certainly is ripe for the staff to let the public in on its proposed approach to a variety of hotly contested topics. 

To be more specific, here are some things NAB would like to see emerge from Thursday’s meeting:

  • The staff discusses its latest thinking on the 600 MHz band plan.
  • The chairman announces that he is forming an “expert user group” of outside stakeholders who are willing to commit the time and resources to evaluating the auction and repacking software once it has been created. This group will test the software to ensure the final product will produce the intended results, without unpleasant surprises.
  • The staff provides a substantive update on its latest work on the international front. The report will not merely list the number of meetings with Canada and Mexico; but rather, will detail how the staff intends to proceed if it has no agreement in place with one or both countries. The chairman indicated in a House hearing last month that he does not expect to have such agreements. Assuming that it is even lawful to proceed with the auction without these agreements (and NAB believes it is not), how will a lack of meaningful coordination affect the auction and the amount of spectrum recovered across the country?
  • The chairman announces that the Commission will move certain parts of the incentive auction order sooner, rather than later. Discrete pieces of the order, such as which broadcasters will receive protection in the repacking, the process for relocating and protecting translators and low-power TVs and the eligibility constraints, if any, placed on forward auction bidders, can and should be decided now, helping the process move more swiftly overall.
  • The staff announces that it will release the long-awaited Public Notice on co-channel interference.
  • The staff of the Office of Engineering and Technology announces that it has dropped its proposed incentive-auction-specific changes to OET-69, and instead will focus all of its energy on ensuring the accuracy of the repacking model. The proposed changes, as well as literally 12 different versions of the TVStudy software (in less than a year), have only served to introduce uncertainty into the process and threaten to slow down the auction process considerably.
  • The staff discusses its plans for wireless microphones, in light of the fact that the NPRM suggests displacing their operations although offers no solution as to where this critical service might find a home.

It would also be a welcome sign to see the chairman publicly affirm that the Commission, under his watch, will in no way take actions to harm broadcasters in unrelated proceedings to encourage participation in the auction. Not only would such actions be unlawful, they would be bad policy. If there was ever a time the Commission needed to develop trust with broadcasters, that time is now. Our participation in all phases of the auction is essential to its success. We are eagerly watching and waiting to develop a true partnership with the Commission as it seeks to execute the first spectrum incentive auction in history.