FAQ of the Week

Will all stations remaining on the air, including those in smaller markets, need to be reassigned channels?

We will not know until after the nationwide repacking exactly how many or which specific stations remaining on the air will be assigned to different channels. Stations in large or small markets that occupy channels that are repurposed for flexible wireless use may be required to change channels in the repacking. Moreover, whether stations in a given market are assigned to different channels will be driven not only by demand for wireless spectrum in that market but by interference constraints that are not strictly market-based; stations that are located near one another may have interference relationships even if they serve different television markets. Thus, broadcasters that remain on the air may have to change channels even if they operate in smaller markets.

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General Information

What is an Incentive Auction?

An incentive auction is a voluntary, market-based means of repurposing much-needed spectrum for flexible use, including mobile services.

The FCC’s proposed incentive auction of broadcast television spectrum will allow broadcasters to bid to voluntarily relinquish their spectrum rights in exchange for a share of the proceeds from an auction of the repurposed spectrum to parties who will bid on licenses for flexible use.

What is spectrum?

Spectrum is the invisible infrastructure used by wireless devices, such as smartphones and tablets, to provide communications services.

What services will be improved by incentive auctions?

The additional spectrum reclaimed through the incentive auction will help increase the speed, capacity, flexibility, and ubiquity of mobile broadband services such as 4G LTE and Wi-Fi-like networks to improve performance of devices, such as smartphones and tablets, that rely on mobile networks.

Will I lose my over-the-air broadcast television?

No. The incentive auction process will enhance the ability of broadcasters who remain on the air to continue providing the public with diverse, local, free over-the-air television service. However, in order to accommodate the new wireless broadband services, there may be a brief transition period. The FCC will work with broadcasters to ensure that any transition is brief and that consumers are well-informed of any potential disruptions.

Who do I contact if I have general questions about incentive auctions?

Send an e-mail to the incentive auctions e-mail box: incentiveauctions@fcc.gov.

Rulemaking

What does the September 28, 2012 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking do and how can I send comments in to the FCC?

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking kicks off the rulemaking process for the FCC to establish its incentive auction regulatory regime. The public may submit comments electronically using the Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS).

What is the working timeline for the auction?

Comments in response to the Notice are due on January 25, 2013 and reply comments are due March 12, 2013. We anticipate that we will be able to release an order in 2014, and conduct the auction in 2015.

Broadcaster Participation & Eligibility

What happens if you don’t get enough broadcaster participation for a successful auction of spectrum for wireless providers?

We are doing everything we can to provide broadcasters with the information they will need to make that decision through the Learn Everything About Reverse-Auctions Now Program (LEARN) program, as well as to encourage their participation by making the auction process as simple and transparent as possible. We’re confident that, based on a fair assessment of the economic opportunity presented by the incentive auction, enough of them will voluntarily choose to participate to make for a successful auction.

Will stations with outstanding complaints be allowed to participate in the incentive auction, and if so how will the complaints be resolved?

Yes. The Notice proposes to allow all full power and Class A broadcast television licensees with valid licenses to participate in the reverse auction, regardless of pending license renewal applications or complaints. The Notice also seeks to identify processes that would allow us to resolve complaints efficiently while enforcing broadcasters’ compliance with their legal obligations. Specifically, it seeks comment on requiring broadcasters that bid to go off the air to enter into escrow arrangements to cover the potential costs of forfeitures as a means of enabling us to dispose of pending cases in an expedited fashion.

Can Low Power Television (LPTV) LPTV stations participate in the reverse auction?

No. As required by the Spectrum Act, low power TV and TV translator stations are not eligible to participate in the reverse auction, nor are they entitled to preservation of their service areas in the repacking. Low power television services have only secondary interference protection, and must make way for full power and Class A TV stations assigned to new channels. Recognizing the potential impact on LPTV and translator stations, the Notice invites comment on measures to help ensure that important programming they provide continues to reach viewers, including measures to promote use of available digital capacity on full power and Class A stations, MVPD systems, and/or the Internet to distribute their programming.

What happens if a broadcaster that participates in the reverse auction decides to exit the auction at some point? Will it still be able to continue broadcasting?

Yes. A station that chooses to withdraw from the bidding process will be treated the same for repacking purposes as one that does not participate at all.

What will the Commission do to maintain the confidentiality of broadcasters’ bids?

As required by the Spectrum Act, the Commission will take all reasonable steps necessary to maintain the confidentiality of Commission-held data of a broadcaster licensee participating in the reverse auction, including withholding the identity of such licensee until spectrum reassignments become effective. In the Notice, the Commission seeks comment on how to apply various elements of this requirement. Historically, the Commission has maintained the confidentiality of certain bidding information during stages of the bidding process in order to protect the integrity of the auction.

Broadcaster Bid Options

Will there be any changes to a broadcaster’s responsibilities or rights if they channel share or move to VHF?

The Notice proposes that any broadcaster that places a winning bid to move from UHF to VHF, or broadcaster that chooses to channel share, will retain its status as a primary FCC licensee, along with all responsibilities, such as compliance with children’s programming requirements, and rights, such as to cable and satellite carriage, of any other FCC television licensee.

What bidding options will be available to broadcasters?

The Spectrum Act establishes three options: going off the air, relinquishing rights to a UHF channel to move to a VHF channel, or relinquishing rights in order to [channel share](reverse-auction.html channel share). It also grants the FCC discretion to establish more options, and the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeks comment on a number of options, including acceptance of interference from which a broadcaster otherwise would be entitled to protection. Such an option would expand the bidding opportunities available to broadcasters while potentially increasing the FCC’s flexibility in the repacking process and thereby enabling us to clear more spectrum.

What is the process for a broadcaster choosing to move from a UHF channel to a VHF channel?

The Notice proposes rules requiring that a broadcaster that casts a winning bid to move from UHF to VHF must terminate operation on its former channel and begin operation on its new channels within 18 months of issuance of notification that it is a winning bidder. The proposed rules also provide that a winning UHF to VHF bidder must provide notice to its viewers and MVPDs of the relocation.

Channel Sharing

Which parties in a channel sharing agreement must participate in the reverse auction?

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposes that only the “sharee”—the station that would relinquish its channel in order to move to the sharer’s channel—would participate in the reverse auction. The “sharer” station would not relinquish spectrum usage rights to the Commission as a part of the channel sharing arrangement, so the Notice proposes that it need not participate unless it intends to bid to relinquish other spectrum usage rights. However, the Notice does invite comment on the alternative; whether we should require all parties to a channel sharing agreement to participate.

How do the proposed rules apply in the event that a full power TV station and a Class A station agree to share a channel?

Under the Commission’s rules, full power broadcast TV stations operate at higher maximum power levels than Class A stations. Channel sharing stations will share the same facilities and, therefore, must operate at the same power level. If a full power and a Class A station agree to share a channel in connection with the incentive auction, the Notice proposes that the power of the “sharer” would govern. Thus, a Class A “sharee” that shares with the facilities of a full power station would be authorized to operate at the same power level as the full power “sharer,” but a full power “sharee” that shares the facilities of a Class A station would be limited to the lower power levels authorized for Class A stations.

What about channel sharing among Low Power Television (LPTV) stations?

The Notice addresses both low power television stations and translator stations, and asks if we should authorize voluntary channel sharing among such stations to help ensure that the important programming they provide continues to reach viewers.

Repacking

What is repacking and why is it so important to the outcome of the auction?

Repacking is one of three major components of the incentive auction, along with the reverse and forward auctions. It refers to the process of reassigning broadcast TV channels in order to free up spectrum for other uses. Repacking plays a role in the reverse auction. It will help us identify which bids we should accept in order to free up the most spectrum, consistent with interference and other constraints.

Auction Process

Will the auction rules prohibit certain communications between applicants?

The Commission proposes a rule that would prohibit applicants and related parties from communicating the substance of bids and bidding strategies starting when a party applies to participate in the incentive auction until a date specified by public notice after the bidding. This is similar to a rule that the Commission has long had regarding communications among participants in its spectrum license auctions. The proposed rule would NOT necessarily prohibit communications among participants for other normal business purposes, such as in connection with local marketing agreements, network affiliation agreements, or other similar cooperative arrangements. Furthermore, the Commission sought comment on whether to adopt specific exceptions to the prohibition.

Transitioning the UHF Band

How much will it cost to transition broadcasters following the auction?

The cost will largely depend on how many broadcasters remaining on the air after the incentive auction are assigned to new frequencies in the repacking. The Spectrum Act provides for up to $1.75 billion to reimburse broadcasters for the costs associated with modifying their facilities to operate on new channels. In order to streamline the reimbursement process and make funds available to broadcasters as soon as needed, the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposes to allow eligible broadcasters to elect advance reimbursements based on their estimated costs.

Class A Stations

What final determinations has the FCC already made regarding treatment of Class A stations in the auction?

The Spectrum Act entitles Class A stations, like full powers, to participate in the auction. Beyond that, the Commission made recommendations and posed questions for public comment in the NPRM. We are currently reviewing the comments submitted in the record, as well as input from individual ex parte meetings, public workshops, and other events. The staff will then recommend a Report & Order containing proposed final auction rules to the FCC Commissioners. The Commissioners will make the final policy and legal determinations in voting to adopt rules for the auction. Chairman Genachowski declared a goal to have rules completed in 2013.

Has the Commission proposed to "score" bids only for Class A stations?

No. The proposal to score bids is intended to reflect the fact that all stations are not alike, and participation in the auction by some stations is likely to contribute more to the clearing of spectrum than participation by others. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (available here: http://www.fcc.gov/document/broadcast-television-spectrum-incentive-auction-nprm) seeks input on what scoring mechanism would be best for this purpose. No decision has been made on whether to score bids, a number of possible scoring mechanisms are under consideration, and any decision among them awaits adoption of a Report and Order by the Commission in the rulemaking proceeding. In any event, no suggestion has been made that scoring should be based on the regulatory status of a station as Class A or full power; rather, the focus is on factual characteristics that relate to the contribution of the station to the clearing of spectrum and closing the auction.

What is the status of the Class A audit?

The Commission has been reviewing the compliance of Class A stations with applicable statutes and rules, just as it reviews compliance by full power stations. That audit is on-going. To qualify for Class A status, the Community Broadcasters Protection Act of 1999 ("CBPA") provides that, during the 90 days preceding enactment of the statute, a low power television station must have: (1) broadcast a minimum of 18 hours per day; (2) broadcast an average of at least three hours per week of programming produced within the market area served by the station; and (3) been in compliance with the Commission's rules for low power television stations. Class A licensees must continue to meet these eligibility criteria, and they must comply with certain Part 73 operating rules for full power television stations, in order to retain Class A status. The staff is continuing to review compliance by Class A stations with these requirements, which are key to Class A classification. The audit includes the review of stations that are the subject of objections or complaints submitted to the Commission. Where noncompliance is found, appropriate corrective measures or sanctions are proposed.

Why did you decide to conduct the Class A audit in preparation for the auction?

We didn't. Confirming that stations are in compliance with their license requirements is part of the FCC's ongoing work. We began planning for this audit in 2010, well before Congress passed incentive auction legislation, based on staff research that indicated that certain stations were out of compliance with Class A rules. This audit would have been conducted whether or not we were authorized to conduct the incentive auction.

Why did you issue the Public Notice of April 5th that freezes processing of modifications that increase a station's protected contour?

In anticipation of the incentive auction, the FCC determined that it needs to stabilize our database of station contours, which will be a key input into the repacking process. We took similar action in connection with the DTV transition, where we were also required to assign stations new channels. The temporary freeze on processing also helps to preserve the Commission's latitude to decide in the Report and Order what modifications will be protected in the repacking process, and limits the risk of stranded costs should the Commission decide not to grant protection.

Does this mean you will not grant those modification requests?

No, it does not. Those modifications will be handled in conformity with the incentive auction Report and Order to be adopted by the Commissioners in the Incentive Auction rulemaking proceeding. Pending applications that are not amended consistent with the April 5th Public Notice will be processed after the Commission's release of a Report & Order, subject to the rules and policies adopted therein.

Will the Media Bureau consider any waivers of the freeze?

Yes, as stated in the Public Notice, the Bureau will consider waiver requests when a modification is necessary in the public interest, such as when zoning restrictions preclude tower construction or when extreme weather requires relocation to a new tower site. As with any request for waiver of our rules, such a request will be granted only on a showing of good cause and when grant of the waiver will serve the public interest.

Will my modification application to convert my Class A station from analog to digital be granted, even if it expands my station's contour?

Yes. We remain committed to completing the digital transition and understand that digital transmission, even at a standard power level, sometimes results in larger contours. This category of contour expansion is an exception to our temporary freeze on modifications that expand contours.

What if my requested modification does not increase my contour in any direction?

We will process pending applications that do not increase a full power station's noise-limited contour or a Class A station's protected contour in any direction beyond the area resulting from the station's present parameters as represented in its authorizations (license and/or construction permit).

Can I amend my pending application so that my waiver request no longer seeks any expansion of my station's contour?

Applicants were able to amend their applications within 60 days of the public notice (through June 4) to comply with this limitation. Alternatively, a station may request a waiver.

600 MHz Band Plan

In proposing band plans for the forward auction that support market variation, is the FCC seeking to repurpose all the spectrum it can in rural markets, even if that is more than the amount of spectrum repurposed in major markets?

No. The auction design proposed in Appendix C to the NPRM involves setting a spectrum clearing target at the beginning of the reverse auction. Our goal is to be able to clear the targeted amount of spectrum in the vast majority of the country, but to be able to accommodate constrained markets in which the target cannot be reached. On this approach, market variation would be the exception, and would exist only to accommodate constrained markets. The approach does not contemplate clearing more than the target amount of spectrum in any markets.