TV spectrum reclamation auctions given the go-ahead

Michelle Clancy ©RapidTVNews| 24-02-2012
One hurdle to TV spectrum reclamation in the United States has been removed this week with the decision by Congress to authorise the FCC to conduct auctions for those airwaves.

Wireless carriers have pushed for access to spectrum freed up by the move from analogue to digital television-- the so-called 'digital dividend.' carriers are desperately looking for ways to slve their coverage and capacity issues as demand for mobile broadband-related data traffic escalates.
However, local affiliates were concerned that the auctions would also encompass the beachfront spectrum they're still using, so that they would be forced to sell back that real estate for under market value, while having to relocate to a less desireable, less powerful place on the dial, so to speak.
However, after a controversial back-and-forth discussion by those representing local free-to-air stations, like the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), and those in the wireless carrier community, a compromise has been reached. The auction provisions will allow the FCC to sell off the broadcast spectrum only under very specific guidelines.
One of those guidelines protects TV stations from being forced to change to a different location on the band. Also, a reverse auction will be conducted to determine a fair market value for those airwaves local stations decide that they want to sell.
The law firm of David Wright Tremain LLP in a blog explained how the reverse auction would work.
"The FCC will need to conduct two sets of auctions – the reverse auction to determine how much a station will be willing to take to abandon spectrum that can be used for wireless, and a forward auction looking at how much the wireless carriers will pay for the spectrum," the firm wrote. "The reverse auction will only be held if there is more than one broadcaster in a particular area looking to give up spectrum – presumably to see who would be willing to give it up for the least amount of money."
The spectrum auctions will serve a dual role: one, to help assuage the wireless capacity and bandwidth congestion crisis to provide more economic opportunity in the telecom sector, and two, to help raise revenue for Federal coffers in an age of austerity. The auction provisions, perhaps not coincidentally, were passed as part of an omnibus bill that included the extension of the Social Security, Medicare and unemployment benefits.