The FCC’s long-running, multi-stage effort to auction spectrum currently used by broadcasters is finally over: Bidders today found out who won specific blocks of the precious airwaves. The FCC is expected to announce the results in April.
The process formally began a little more than a year ago, but has been debated and planned for about six years. The basic terms were settled earlier. Telco and other companies eager to boost their wireless broadband offerings agreed to pay $19.77 billion for 70 MHz of spectrum. TV stations agreed to relinquish some of the airwaves they use for a little more than $10 billion. “Today’s conclusion of the assignment phase formally brings all bidding activity in this multi-phase auction to a close,” says Gary Epstein, who chairs the FCC’s Incentive Auction Task Force. “The incentive auction has required unprecedented commitment from bidders as well as Commission staff, who from the moment that broadcasters made their initial commitments to the final bids processed this afternoon have worked each day to assist bidders and ensure a fair and successful auction,” he adds. “We are excited to share the results of the reverse and forward auctions and extensive information about the post-auction transition in the next few weeks.” Broadcasters were reluctant to give up spectrum, even though the vast majority of their viewers receive programming via cable or satellite. That delayed the auction, which was supposed to begin in mid-2015. The FCC arranged a so-called reverse auction to determine how much broadcasters would need to collect to relinquish some of the airwaves they use. Fox, Tribune Media and Gray Television are among the station groups that agreed to sell some of their spectrum. E.W. Scripps said it decided not to relinquish any because “prices available in the auction fell below the value we ascribed” to the spectrum. Most of the payment in excess of what broadcasters require will go to the U.S. Treasury, with part of the proceeds covering administrative costs. The costs will include work the FCC now must do to repack the spectrum — a multiyear process that will involve moving TV channels and other services to different frequencies that use the airwaves most efficiently. The National Association of Broadcasters says it’s “eager to work with the Commission to ensure a smooth repacking transition that protects consumer access to local news, weather, community service and lifeline emergency programming. We look forward to working on a bipartisan basis with policymakers on a seamless transition for our tens of millions of TV viewers and radio listeners.”