The FCC is reaching more broadcasters ahead of next year's incentive auction of 600 MHz broadcast TV spectrum. According to Reuters, nearly two-thirds of eligible U.S. TV stations have been briefed by FCC officials about the auction, up from an estimate of "nearly half" FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler cited in April.
The report, citing an estimate from an unnamed FCC official, said broadcasters are most concerned about the auction's projected opening bid prices and timing as well as the details of potential channel sharing.
On Friday the FCC voted to approve new rules for channel sharing to provide greater flexibility and certainty regarding channel sharing agreements. The rules will allow broadcasters that relinquish their spectrum rights in the incentive auction in order to channel share to enter into the agreements after the auction and, whether they enter into them before or after the auction, to determine the length of their agreements.
FCC officials and a former Greenhill & Co. banker last week finished a four-month national road show, where they publicly and privately spoke with broadcasters, lawyers and other representatives.
The incentive auction, which is scheduled to start in the first quarter of 2016, will consist of two main parts: The first is a "reverse" auction, in which broadcasters agree to sell their spectrum rights, and some may embrace channel sharing agreements with other stations. After the reverse auction, the spectrum will then be moved around or "repacked" based on which stations relinquish their spectrum. Then the FCC will conduct a more traditional "forward" auction in which carriers and other entities bid on the spectrum licenses.
Getting broadcaster participation will be crucial as the amount of broadcasters that participate and give up their spectrum will determine how much spectrum carriers can bid on. FCC officials have been hitting the road to make their case that the auction is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to realize the value of their spectrum as well as to allay broadcasters' concerns.
"Both the level of participation in these briefings and the clear forethought that went into the questions we received show that licensees are taking the opportunity very seriously," said Howard Symons, vice chairman of the FCC's Incentive Auction Task Force.
Prominent broadcasters Fox, Ion, Tribune and Univision have signaled that they are interested in participating in the auction and staying on air at the right price and under the right rules, notes Broadcasting & Cable.
The FCC will permit channel sharing agreements after the auction as long as broadcasters "indicate in their pre-auction applications that they have a present intent to find a channel sharing partner after the auction," and that they "execute and implement their CSAs by the date on which they would otherwise be required to relinquish their licenses."
"Our Coalition is very grateful to the FCC staff and Commissioners for listening to our concerns about the channel sharing rules and then acting decisively to adopt new more relaxed rules," the Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition, a group of broadcasters willing to participate in the auction, said in a statement. "The new rules will greatly increase the feasibility of broadcasters entering into sharing arrangements and increase the likelihood of a successful auction."
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