Making history is exciting, but it’s not easy. In next year’s first-ever incentive auction, participating broadcasters will voluntarily relinquish spectrum rights in exchange for a share of the proceeds, and the recovered spectrum will be sold for wireless broadband use. The remaining broadcast spectrum will be “repacked,” which means that some broadcasters who remain on the air will be given new channel assignments. That last step may sound anticlimactic, but getting it right will take the concerted efforts of everyone involved. Together we’ll need to craft policies and procedures to transition the broadcasters with as little disruption to the industry and consumers as possible.
Today we released for public comment a report that the FCC commissioned from a spectrum consulting firm, Widelity, to help us understand the process and costs associated with the post-auction transition. In producing the report, Widelity interviewed a broad range of broadcast industry experts, including TV broadcast group engineers, radio frequency and structural engineers, network engineers, suppliers, support companies, equipment manufacturers, and attorneys. Importantly, Widelity’s report concludes, “With cooperation as well as patience, creative problem solving and guidance from the FCC and industry groups such as the National Association of Broadcasters, Association of Public Television Stations, and state broadcast associations, the transition can be achieved with the desired outcomes.”
The report identifies a range of variables that we will need to consider in the post-auction transition process. The issues range from equipment availability to personnel, environmental, and weather concerns. As Widelity points out, each station’s transition will be different – some stations will have relatively little to do and will do it quickly, others will have more major tasks and can expect a lengthier process. Widelity produced a catalog of expenses that broadcasters may incur in the transition to their new channels and for which they may seek reimbursement, along with estimated costs or cost ranges for each expense.
We have already begun efforts to address the issues raised by the transition. We’ve held two workshops on broadcaster reimbursement issues – the first just three months after Congress gave us the authority to conduct the incentive auction and the second last September. We sought input from interested parties at that time on an initial catalog of potential expenses, and we received input that helped Widelity to prepare the revised catalog that accompanies its report.
The transition will be challenging, and there will likely be bumps in the road. But we pledge to work closely with all affected parties as we refine our thinking on these issues to make the transition as smooth as possible. Though the auction is not until 2015, we want to continue to engage stakeholders now. We hope all interested parties will carefully review the Widelity Report and accompanying catalog of potential expenses and give us their suggestions as we move forward.