FCC delays TV airwaves auction
Michelle Clancy
| 28 October 2014
US wireless operators will have to wait a little longer to make use of unused local TV spectrum after the country's telecoms regulator the FCC has delayed their auction until early 2016.

The operators have long complained that mobile data usage is chewing up their spectrum holdings, which means any chance to purchase unused local TV spectrum would be very well anticipated. Moreover the move to digital television by local TV affiliates has left a 'digital dividend' on the airwaves front vacant channels with indoor propagation characteristics that are attractive for 4G use.

The FCC has decided on a double-sided auction which would allow broadcasters to voluntarily put up their spectrum for bidding on by the FCC, guaranteeing them compensation for the assets. Then, in a forward auction, the spectrum would be auctioned off to wireless operators.

But broadcasters, including Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc, Gannett Co, CBS Corp, Comcast Corp's NBC Universal, ABC owner Walt Disney Co and 21st Century Fox, have filed a lawsuit saying that the FCC isn't ensuring the preservation of local coverage areas for TV stations which choose not to participate in the process.

Final briefs in the case are not due until late January 2015; oral arguments will follow at a later date yet to be determined, with a decision not likely until mid-2015.

"We are confident we will prevail in court, but given the reality of that schedule, the complexity of designing and implementing the auction, and the need for all auction participants to have certainty well in advance of the auction, we now anticipate accepting applications for the auction in the fall of 2015 and starting the auction in early 2016," said Gary Epstein, chair of the FCC's Incentive Auction Task Force, in a blog post. "Despite this brief delay, we remain focused on the path to successfully implementing the incentive auction."

"Any delay in spectrum auctions is unfortunate," Scott Bergmann, vice president of regulatory affairs at CTIA-The Wireless Association. "When the auction is held, mobile companies will have their cheque books ready."