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With great anticipation, the Stage 2 Forward Auction commenced at 10am this morning.  It officially ended at 12:14pm, when the FCC announced:

Bidding in the forward auction has concluded for Stage 2 without meeting the final stage rule and without meeting the conditions to trigger an extended round. The incentive auction will continue with Stage 3 at a lower clearing target.

As I wrote less than a week ago, there was never much hope that the Stage 2 Forward Auction would bring in the $57B or so needed to cover the FCC’s bidding commitments and associated costs in the Stage 2 Reverse Auction.  The Stage 1 Forward Auction concluded at a paltry $23B, and a sudden jump in bidding to nearly $60B in Stage 2 was definitely going to be a bid too far.  However, as we discussed last week, spectrum auction groupies are basically split into two camps: those who think that wireless bidders were holding back in Stage 1 to conceal their resources and bidding strategies, and those who thought Stage 1 represented the high water mark, with the total amount bid going down as the amount of spectrum being cleared dropped with each stage.  Based on this morning’s results, the latter group is growing.

Not that we should be surprised.  With the FCC starting the bidding where the bids left off in Stage 1, the main reason for bidding in Stage 2 was to correct for any refinements of bidding strategy since Stage 1.  Based on Stage 2 concluding after only one round of bidding, it appears that the wireless bidders had already refined their strategies before Stage 1 commenced, and didn’t see any reason to change their approach now.

The rapid conclusion of the Stage 2 Forward Auction does appear to have surprised the FCC a bit.  The FCC announced this morning that:

The FCC expects to release a public notice next week announcing details about the next stage, including the clearing target for Stage 3, and the time and date at which bidding in Stage 3 of the reverse auction will begin.

While this language is quite similar to the language that concluded Stage 1 (except for the addition of “expects to”), it certainly contrasts with recent statements from the FCC about its intent to accelerate the auction process, including its statement (later modified) that the Stage 2 Forward Auction would commence “on the next business day after the close of bidding in Stage 2 of the reverse auction.”

So the big question now is whether the FCC will continue to slowly reduce the clearing target (126 MHz in Stage 1, 114 MHz in Stage 2, and now 108 MHz in Stage 3?) as it previously indicated it was bound to do, or whether it can make a more significant reduction that brings the forward and reverse auction dollar figures much closer together.  While some have argued that there is no reason for the FCC to expedite the process, and that remaining on the slow and meticulous path of very incremental clearing targets converts the greatest amount of broadcast spectrum to wireless use, bidder fatigue is definitely beginning to set in.  More importantly, the sooner the auction is concluded, the sooner spectrum is freed for its newfound purpose, so the delay is not harmless.

In addition, the continued applicability of the rule on prohibited communications during the auction has put much of the TV broadcast industry into a cryogenic state, particularly with regard to station sales.  Dragging the process out any longer than necessary causes real economic harm, and the impact only grows as station owners recognize there will be no windfall and want to move quickly to sell stations they otherwise would have sold several years ago.

With forward auctions now measured in hours, it is clear that it is the reverse auctions where significant time is being lost in concluding the Incentive Auction.  The Stage 1 Reverse Auction lasted 28 days, and the Stage 2 Reverse Auction lasted 30 days.  Unlike the Forward Auction, which went from 14 days to half a day, the Stage 2 Reverse Auction still consumed significant time, even with a reduced spectrum clearing target.  More rapidly reducing the spectrum clearing target is the most efficient way of moving new spectrum to wireless use, commencing the broadcast repack, and putting broadcasters back on the road to normalcy.

After six years of the National Broadband Plan and its key component, the Spectrum Incentive Auction, it’s getting hard for broadcasters to remember what normal feels like.

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The FCC has announced the conclusion of the Stage 2 Reverse Auction, moving the spotlight from the broadcasters willing to relinquish 114 MHz of their spectrum to the bidders in the forward auction hoping to buy it.  Unfortunately for those wishing to see a speedy conclusion to the Spectrum Incentive Auction, the FCC set the cumulative buying price for 114 MHz of spectrum at $54,586,032,836, plus the cost of the $1.75B repacking fund and the cost of conducting the auction itself.

Given that forward auction bidders in Stage 1 stopped bidding at $23 billion, it seems unlikely that they will show up for Stage 2 so rejuvenated as to bid two and a half times that amount now.  If they don’t, then the auction will move to Stage 3 and likely into 2017 as well.  Still, $55B is significantly less than the $88B the FCC was targeting in the Stage 1 Forward Auction, confirming the FCC’s earlier assertion that the additional broadcast spectrum needed to reach the original clearing target of 126 MHz is quite expensive.  While the likelihood of Stage 2 concluding the auction appears small, a 40% drop in the clearing cost, while clearing over 90% of the spectrum originally targeted by the FCC, definitely illuminates the path to where supply will meet demand.  Unfortunately for many broadcasters, that point on the path is not looking like one that will bring stations anywhere close to the prices initially presented to entice them into the auction in the first place.

So while the Stage 2 Forward Auction might be anticlimactic for broadcasters looking for a highly profitable end to what seems a very long trek from the announcement of the National Broadband Plan over six and a half years ago, it will still be informative.  In particular, it may settle the debate between those who believe the Stage 1 Forward Auction set the high water mark for how much the wireless industry would bring to the table for the absolute maximum amount of spectrum, and those who believe wireless bidders were holding back in Stage 1 to conceal their motivations and bidding strategies, nearly certain the auction would proceed to further stages.  If the Stage 2 Forward Auction brings in less than Stage 1’s $23.1B, that trend will not be promising for a quick or profitable end to the auction for those broadcasters still willing to sell spectrum.

Of course, that could be because the wireless bidders are still confident more auction stages are coming, and will continue to hold their ultimate bids in reserve for those later stages.  So it goes with history’s most complicated auction, where the more you know, the more you are left to fathom what it means.

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The era of newsgathering drones is upon us.  Since new Federal Aviation Administration rules allowing limited commercial operation of drones (also known as unmanned aircraft systems or UAS) weighing 55 lbs. or less took effect a little over a month ago, media organizations have moved quickly to utilize the technology.

Sinclair Broadcast Group, which operates or provides services to 173 television stations across the country, recently announced it was going “all in” on newsgathering drones.  It plans to have 80 trained and certified UAS pilots working in 40 markets by the end of 2017, and already has launched UAS teams for newsgathering in Washington, DC; Baltimore, MD; Green Bay, WI; Columbus, OH; Little Rock, AR; and Tulsa, OK.  Providing an example of the benefits drones can bring to newsgathering, Sinclair released footage taken over the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids, IA, showing an aerial perspective of a newly constructed flood wall as the city braced for flooding.

Sinclair’s announcement comes on the heels of CNN’s launch of CNN Aerial Imagery and Reporting (CNN AIR), a unit with two full-time drone operators dedicated to integrating aerial imagery and reporting across CNN networks.

Broadcasters and other organizations with newsgathering operations are increasingly taking advantage of the FAA’s new “Part 107” rules, which took effect on August 29, 2016.  The small drones authorized under the rules offer broadcasters and other news organizations a cost-effective way to gather aerial footage, especially as compared to the cost of using helicopters.  While the Part 107 rules have paved the way for widespread use of newsgathering drones, broadcasters and other potential UAS operators should keep in mind that some requirements must be met before UAS operations can commence.

To protect the public, the Part 107 rules come with a number of operational limitations on UAS operation.  However, if a party can demonstrate the ability to operate safely while deviating from a specific limitation, the FAA may grant a waiver of one or more of the specific limitations found in its rules.  With regard to newsgathering operations, the most relevant limitations (and therefore good candidates for waiver requests) include the prohibitions on flights above people not participating in the UAS operation, flights beyond visual line of sight, flights above 400 feet (or more than 400 feet above a building or other structure), and nighttime flights.  The FAA has added a portal to its website for waiver applications, and has recorded a standard-issue government YouTube video on the subject.  For an example of a waiver that has been granted, take a look at CNN’s waiver for flights over non-participants.

In addition, the Part 107 rules require those operating small drones to either hold a “remote pilot certificate” or be under the supervision of a person who holds such a certificate.  To qualify for a certificate, the applicant must be at least 16 years old, be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration, and pass an aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved testing center.  The FAA offers a free online preparation course for the knowledge test.  In addition to pilot certification, Part 107 requires that all drones used for commercial purposes be marked and registered.  Drones can be registered through the FAA’s website.

Pillsbury launched one of the nation’s first UAS legal teams long before commercial operations were possible, and being a part of these developments has been fascinating.  Because of the myriad issues UAS operations involve, Pillsbury’s UAS practice consists of an interdisciplinary team of lawyers from our Aviation, Communications, Privacy, and Transportation practices.  The UAS team is led by former FAA General Counsel, Ken Quinn.  It was first to secure nighttime drone operation approval of any kind, and counsels a variety of companies and organizations in UAS operational approvals, including Part 107 waivers.  Those contemplating entering the world of UAS operations for newsgathering or other purposes will find the UAS team’s blog and advisories an excellent place to start.

It’s time to stop reading about drones in the news, and start reading news brought to us by drones.

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While some debate endlessly which content best serves the public interest, there is universal agreement that the content broadcasters air during emergencies is vital to their communities.  Whether it comes in the form of tracking a developing storm so the public can prepare, or disseminating evacuation orders and alerts, broadcasters continue to serve as the bedrock of the nation’s warning system in emergencies.  As Hurricane Matthew approaches the East Coast, TV and radio stations are hurrying to make sure they are in position to warn and inform their audiences of new developments.

Curiously, the growth of alternative information sources has only served to emphasize that in a true emergency, there is no substitute for local broadcasts.  While the last decade has brought progress in making communications infrastructure more resilient in emergencies, cable and Internet service is often disrupted in disasters, and cell phone networks, where they don’t fail outright, become overwhelmed by increased usage during a disaster.

That is why nearly a dozen states have laws on the books granting broadcast personnel First Responder/First Informer status.  These laws allow broadcasters access to crisis areas, both for reporting on a disaster and maintaining station operations throughout.  This includes granting priority to broadcasters for scarce fuel supplies (and emergency access for vehicles transporting fuel to stations).  That fuel keeps stations’ emergency generators, and the transmitters they power, running during emergencies.

Unlike communications infrastructure that requires wired connections over a broad area, or numerous short-range towers and repeaters, broadcast stations just need an upright tower or tall building for their antenna, fuel for their generator, and access for their employees to be able to reach the station’s facilities.  That resilience in extreme conditions is, however, only part of the reason local broadcast stations are critical in emergencies.  Also important is the fact that broadcast receivers are ubiquitous and easy to power.  Some estimates place the number of radios in the U.S. at nearly 600,000,000, almost double the population of the U.S.  Many of those radios are powered by replaceable batteries.  As a result, they don’t need access to the power grid for recharging like smartphones do.  A box full of batteries will bring radio service for the duration of most any emergency.

Speaking of smartphones, in part because of the importance of accessing local broadcast signals during emergencies, the big 4 wireless providers have now activated the FM chip in at least some of their smartphones.  While there are a lot of radios out there, people aren’t generally walking around with a transistor radio in their hand at all times.  Being able to access emergency broadcast information via the smartphone in your pocket ensures that even when the cell phone network has ceased to function, you still have immediate access to important local information.  In fact, even where the cell phone system is still operating and not overwhelmed by traffic, there are two good reasons for utilizing a phone’s FM receiving capability.  First, it consumes a fraction of the battery power that streaming data does, ensuring the longest battery life possible—an important factor if you don’t know where your next charge is coming from.  Second, and taking a broader perspective, utilizing the FM capability is helpful to the community at large, as the more individuals that are obtaining information by radio, the less likely the wireless network will become overwhelmed, ensuring it is available for coordination of relief efforts and other vital functions.

Because televisions have far greater power needs than radios, the typical pattern in a disaster is for people to rely on local TV to track and prepare for an impending disaster, and then switch to radio when the power goes out.  However, with people scurrying about in their cars to buy storm supplies, the portability of radio (and its universal availability in cars), makes it a big part of storm preparations too.  Conversely, those lucky enough to have power after a storm (whether by generator or good fortune) can follow the storm recovery on their TVs.  The promise of ATSC 3.0 to make broadcast television signals more accessible to mobile devices can only increase that availability in adverse conditions.

And that’s where life gets even more complicated for television broadcasters.  It’s tough enough to continue operations during a hurricane, with employees sleeping in the studio while wondering if their house is still standing.  TV stations are also required to ensure that all of their viewers, regardless of hearing or vision challenges, are able to receive the emergency information being relayed.  As a result, emergency information presented on-air aurally must also be made available visually, and emergency information presented visually must also be made available aurally.  In past disasters, the FCC has proposed fines of up to $24,000 ($8,000 per “incident”) to TV stations that effectively said “run for shelter” but didn’t air a crawl or other graphic at that time conveying the same information.

Last year, the FCC created additional obligations for relaying emergency information to all segments of the public.  The “Audible Crawl Rule”, as it has come to be known, requires TV stations to aurally present on a secondary audio stream (“SAS”) any emergency information that is provided visually in non-newscast programming. The station must insert an aural tone (both on the main video stream and the SAS) before transmitting emergency information on the SAS to differentiate that information from normal audio. This alerts the viewer to turn on the SAS and focus on the emergency content.  Think that sounds complicated?  It is, which is why stations have been working on automating the process as much as possible.

Preventing a person’s hearing or vision impairment from becoming the cause of their death or injury is certainly a worthy goal, but it isn’t hard to understand the frustration of a station employee that hasn’t slept in 24 hours trying to get emergency information out to viewers as quickly as possible, but needing to pause to ensure the appropriate graphics and SAS information is prepared and aired in order to avoid an FCC fine.  To help stations simplify that process when preparing for last year’s hurricane season, we drafted a detailed summary of the FCC’s emergency information accessibility rules titled Keep Calm and Broadcast On: A Guide for Television Stations on Airing Captions and Audible Crawls in an Emergency.  Stations whose communities will be affected by Hurricane Matthew should review it, both as a refresher on what they will need to do in the next few days, and on how best to do it.

While these rules add to a station’s challenges during an already challenging time, the FCC is doing its part as well.  Earlier today, the FCC released a Public Notice reminding broadcasters, among others, that:

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will be available to address emergency communications needs twenty-four hours a day throughout the weekend, especially relating to the effects that Hurricane Matthew may have on the Southeastern United States.

The FCC reminds emergency communications providers, including broadcasters, cable service providers, wireless and wireline service providers, satellite service providers, emergency response managers and first responders, and others needing assistance to initiate, resume, or maintain communications operations during the weekend, to contact the FCC Operations Center for assistance at 202-418-1122 or by e-mail at

Here’s hoping that the FCC’s phone doesn’t ring much in the coming days.

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Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published FCC Enforcement Monitor monthly since 1999 to inform our clients of notable FCC enforcement actions against FCC license holders and others. This month’s issue includes:


  • Florida AM Licensee Hit with $15,000 Fine for Failing to Maintain Public Inspection File and Provide Immediate Access to It
  • New York Amateur Radio Operator Fined $23,000 and Arrested for Unlicensed Operations and False Officer-in-Distress Call
  • Late-Filed License Renewal Nets Washington AM Station $1,500 Fine

FCC Fines AM Licensee $15,000 for Public Inspection File Violations

The FCC’s Media Bureau fined a Florida AM licensee $15,000 for failing to provide immediate access to the station’s public inspection file and for failing to maintain the file in accordance with FCC Rules. It also admonished the licensee for making a false certification to the FCC.

Under Section 73.3526 of the FCC’s Rules, each commercial broadcast station is required to maintain a public inspection file containing specific information related to station operations. Subsection 73.3526(e) lists the required information, and subsection 73.3526(c)(1) directs stations to make the file available for public inspection at all times during regular business hours.

In this case, the licensee filed a license renewal application on September 20, 2011 in which it certified that the public file had been maintained throughout the term in compliance with the FCC’s Rules. On December 27, 2011, however, a petition to deny the application was filed with the FCC. The petitioner claimed that on the morning of December 5, 2011, the station’s staff denied him immediate access to the public inspection file and treated him disrespectfully. The petitioner stated that he returned in the afternoon, as station staff requested, at which point he was allowed to view the file, but was not allowed to make copies of anything in the file. The petitioner further alleged that the file was missing information related to its authorization, applications filed with the FCC, the political file, all issues/programs lists, and the most recent ownership report. The petitioner claimed that the file was also missing letters and emails from the public, material related to FCC investigations or complaints, and certain agreements – but failed to demonstrate any basis for these claims.

In response, the licensee asserted that the petition was filed as “payback” for not hiring the petitioner as a station employee. The licensee also explained that the petitioner was not granted immediate access because the station was on-air at the time of his request. The station noted that access to the public file was subsequently granted, and that the file was “in order” for the inspection.

In response, the FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (“NAL”), and determined that the licensee apparently violated subsections 73.3526(c)(1) and 73.3526(e). Specifically, the FCC was concerned that the licensee (1) conceded that it did not provide immediate access to the petitioner, (2) did not deny that it refused to allow the petitioner to make copies, and (3) provided only a brief and general response to the allegation that the public file was deficient. Most importantly, according to the FCC, the licensee never stated that the public file was properly maintained for the entire license term.

The FCC’s Rules establish a base fine of $10,000 for violating Section 73.3526, but because this was not the licensee’s first public inspection file violation, the FCC determined that an upward adjustment to $15,000 was warranted based on the licensee’s “pattern of abuse.” The FCC also admonished the licensee for falsely certifying in its license renewal application that it had properly maintained the public file. The FCC stated it would withhold grant of the license renewal application until the licensee paid the fine in full, and would then grant renewal for only a two-year term instead of the standard eight-year term.

False Police Distress Call Causes Arrest and Associated Distress for Unlicensed Amateur Radio Operator

The FCC proposed a fine of $23,000 against an amateur radio station operator for operating without FCC authorization and falsely transmitting an officer-in-distress call from his residence in New York. The FCC explained that such fraudulent transmissions potentially impact public safety and property, and place unnecessary strain on safety and rescue agencies.  Continue reading →

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The FCC has sent an email to those registered in the EAS Test Reporting System (“ETRS”) for tomorrow’s nationwide test, asking them to (1) stagger the filing of their EAS Form Two based on their time zone, and (2) not file Form Three until the day after the test.  The FCC explained that the request—the staggered filing times are not mandatory—is meant to “maximize the resources available to process Form Two filings.”

Specifically, the FCC would like EAS participants to file Form Two, “Day of Test Reporting,” in the ETRS as follows:

  • Facilities in Eastern Time Zone – 2:30 pm to 5:00 pm EDT
  • Facilities in Central Time Zone – 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm EDT (4:00 pm to 6:00 pm CDT)
  • Facilities in Mountain Time Zone – 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm EDT (5:00 pm to 6:00 pm MDT)
  • Facilities in Pacific Time Zone – 8:00 pm to 9:30 pm EDT (5:00 pm to 6:30 pm PDT)
  • Facilities in all other time zones – 9:30 pm to 11:59 pm EDT

The request seemed last-minute, coming so soon before the test, which is scheduled to take place tomorrow, Wednesday, September 28, 2016, at 2:20 pm Eastern Time (if necessary, the back-up test date will be October 5, 2016, at 2:20 pm Eastern Time).  As we previously discussed, it raised some eyebrows when the FCC announced that EAS participants are required to file Form Two by 11:59 pm Eastern Time on the same day as the test itself, leaving less than 10 hours after the test for all EAS participants to file.  The relevant FCC rule says that participants must file “within 24 hours . . . or as otherwise directed” by the FCC.  As for Form Three, “Detailed Test Reporting,” it must be filed “within 45 days following a nationwide EAS test,” which makes it due on or before November 14, 2016.

There are also new details available on what the test itself will look and sound like.  According to senior FEMA staff, the audio portion of the test, including attention signals, will last approximately 50 seconds.  In addition, FEMA was asked to delete a previously included statement in the text scroll—“No action is needed.  This is only a test”—to avoid creating a difference between the aural and visual presentations, which had the potential to generate confusion among those with hearing or vision issues.

The test will start when FEMA sends the alert message, which will be in both English and Spanish.  The alert will use a new nationwide test event code, NPT, and a new nationwide geographic zone code, 000000.  As of July 30, 2016, all EAS Participants were required to have equipment in place capable of receiving and passing these codes.  If you want to see what the 2011 test looked like for TV viewers, YouTube can help you there.

It will be interesting to see if the 2016 nationwide EAS test improves on the 2011 edition.  As we previously wrote, the FCC found a number of technical areas where the system could be improved in the 2011 test.  Let’s hope that the capacity of ETRS to process filings, or a lack thereof, is not a lesson learned from the 2016 national test.

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Next week, the eyes of the broadcast world shift to Nashville, where the National Association of Broadcasters is holding this year’s Radio Show. Pillsbury will again be kicking off the Show with its annual broadcast finance session at 8:30am on Wednesday, September 21.

This year’s event is titled Pillsbury’s Broadcast Finance Forecast – 2016 Leadership Breakfast, and will feature the expanded format we used for last year’s 25th anniversary broadcast finance session.  It will start with a visual analysis of the 2016 financial performance of the radio industry and its major players by Davis Hebert of Wells Fargo. An advance peek at some of the slides from his presentation drew attention in the radio trade press a few weeks ago, and he has many more where those came from.  The Wells Fargo analysis is always packed with information and economic insight and, having seen the slide deck, I can tell you that this year will be no exception.

Davis’s “State of the Industry” presentation will be followed by our six-member “broadcasters and bankers” panel discussing a wide variety of issues impacting the radio industry and its financing. These include the uptick in radio M&A activity represented by Beasley’s recently-announced acquisition of the Greater Media stations, the obstacles in obtaining financing for radio acquisitions and debt restructuring, and the competitive and other challenges facing radio stations as they seek to ride the economic wave generated by the end of the Great Recession.

We have a particularly well-qualified panel to tackle these tough topics, including Caroline Beasley of Beasley Broadcast Group and Larry Wilson of Alpha Media, representing two of the most active players in radio station acquisitions the past few years, Bill Hendrich of Cox Media, who has a long history of radio operations, and Garret Komjathy (U.S. Bank) and Ray Shu (Capital One), two of the most experienced lenders in the radio world.

I’ll be moderating the panel (no event is perfect), and Media Services Group is again providing the breakfast, ensuring that when the session is over, attendees will leave with not just full minds, but full stomachs.

My partner, Lew Paper, started this event many years ago (26, to be exact), and a lot of people, both at Pillsbury and NAB, work hard to put it together every year. When Lew handed the reins to me a few years ago, I think only he knew how hard it is pull together all the pieces and make it look as easy as he did (turns out he’s sneaky that way).  Fortunately, with this year’s panel, my job has been made easy.  For those that will be in Nashville, we hope to see you there.

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Just before the Labor Day weekend, the FCC issued its Report and Order launching the annual regulatory fee payment process for Fiscal Year 2016.  The FCC has also opened the “Fee Filer” system that must be used to pay regulatory fees.  More information and FAQs about the FY 2016 regulatory fees can be found here.

Payment in full of regulatory fees must be made by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on September 27, 2016. Late payment of regulatory fees will result in a 25% penalty and “red light” status, which restricts the FCC’s processing of a late payer’s applications until payment of the fees and penalties has been made.  The FCC specifically reminded participants in the ongoing TV broadcast Incentive Auction that they must pay regulatory fees for FY 2016 if they held a license or construction permit as of October 1, 2015 (and will be liable for next year’s fees if they hold a license or CP as of October 1, 2016).  The FCC also noted that payment of regulatory fees is required before Incentive Auction participants can receive any proceeds resulting from the auction, although given the pace at which the auction is proceeding, that seems unlikely to be an issue until well into next year.

As expected, regulatory fees for broadcast stations generally increased over last year, and the total fees assessed rose from $339,844,000 in FY 2015 to $384,012,497 in FY 2016.  Although the fees assessed for “operational expenses” remained the same as last year, the FCC (in a move which some might find ironic) assessed an additional $44,168,497 to offset FCC “facilities reduction costs.”  According to the FCC, those costs reflect the one-time expense of reducing the FCC’s office footprint and/or moving the FCC to a new location, and are required by Congress to be collected.

Despite the increase in total fees, middle market TV stations caught a break, with fees for stations in markets 51-100 falling from $16,275 last year to $15,200 this year. Fees for TV stations in markets 1-10, on the other hand, took the biggest jump — going from $46,825 to $60,675.

As for radio, rates increased over last year for most, but not all, stations.  In light of comments asserting that the regulatory fees proposed by the FCC last May were too burdensome for small independent radio stations, the FCC reduced the fees in the two lowest population tiers for AM and FM broadcasters.  Stations located in markets with populations of more than 3 million, previously the highest of the radio fee tiers, have been split into two groups by the FCC: (1) markets of 3,000,000-6,000,000, and (2) markets over 6,000,000.  Charts showing the regulatory fees for the various TV and radio groups are below:

Broadcast Television and TV/FM Translators and Boosters

Markets 1-10 $60,675
Markets 11-25 $45,675
Markets 26-50 $30,525
Markets 51-100 $15,200
Remaining Markets $5,000
Construction Permits $5,000
Satellite TV Stations (all markets) $1,750
Low Power TV, Class A TV, TV/FM Translators & Boosters $455


Broadcast Radio (AM and Full Power FM)

Population AM Class A AM Class B AM Class C AM Class D FM Classes A, B1 & C3 FM Classes B, C, C0, C1 & C2
25,000 or fewer $990 $715 $620 $685 $1,075 $1,250
25,001-75,000 $1,475 $1,075 $925 $1,025 $1,625 $1,850
75,001-150,000 $2,200 $1,600 $1,375 $1,525 $2,400 $2,750
150,001-500,000 $3,300 $2,375 $2,075 $2,275 $3,600 $4,125
500,001-1,200,000 $5,500 $3,975 $3,450 $3,800 $6,000 $6,875
1,200,001-3,000,000 $8,250 $5,950 $5,175 $5,700 $9,000 $10,300
3,000,001-6,000,000 $11,000 $7,950 $6,900 $7,600 $12,000 $13,750
Greater than 6,000,000 $13,750 $9,950 $8,625 $9,500 $15,000 $17,175

In addition, initial AM Construction Permits were assessed a $620 regulatory fee per station for FY 2016, with initial FM Construction Permits drawing a regulatory fee of $1,075 per station.

Finally, the FCC rejected a proposal by the Puerto Rico Broadcasters Association to reduce regulatory fees for stations located in Puerto Rico by 30% to reflect the economic hardships being experienced there.  The FCC responded that individual stations in Puerto Rico may request waivers of regulatory fees if they believe their conditions warrant such relief, but the Commission was unwilling to reduce the fees on a blanket basis.

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Perhaps indicating that the rapid conclusion of Stage 1 of the Incentive Auction was not a surprise to the FCC, the Commission moved with lightning speed to announce that Stage 2 of the auction will commence on September 13 with a spectrum clearing target of 114 MHz.  In a Public Notice released less than 24 hours after Stage 1 concluded, the FCC effectively indicated that it was staying the course, and reducing the spectrum clearing target by only 12 MHz for the next stage.  In light of the lackluster results of Stage 1 that we discussed yesterday, many wondered if the FCC would, or legally could, make a more significant adjustment in the spectrum clearing target to expedite the conclusion of the auction.  It now looks like auction participants will indeed be in for a long slow march to the point where spectrum supply meets demand.

However, the quick release of today’s Public Notice at least minimizes the administrative delay in the process.  In fact, the Public Notice also announced that “[b]idding in the clock phase of Stage 2 of the forward auction will begin on the next business day after the close of bidding in Stage 2 of the reverse auction.”  That will eliminate the downtime between the reverse auction and forward auction that slowed Stage 1, and will require forward auction participants to be extremely alert for the end of the reverse auction, lest they miss their opportunity to bid in the forward auction.

Also indicating that the FCC was well-prepared for the move to Stage 2, the Public Notice announced that the FCC will make an online tutorial available for Stage 2 participants tomorrow, September 1.  The tutorial will be found on the Auction 1001 website in the “Education” section, and the FCC is encouraging all broadcasters still eligible to participate in the reverse auction to review the tutorial.  Stations that exited the auction in Stage 1, whether due to withdrawing from the bid process or because the station was not needed in the auction, will not be able to return for Stage 2.  In addition, stations that did not exit in Stage 1, but which are not needed in Stage 2 due to the lower spectrum clearing target, will not be allowed to bid in Stage 2.  However, regardless of whether they are eligible to participate in Stage 2, all full power and Class A TV stations remain subject to the rule against discussing bids or bidding strategies.  Indeed, the Public Notice indicated that “communicating that a party ‘is not bidding’ in or has ‘exited’ the reverse auction could constitute an apparent violation that needs to be reported.”

Given that the auction process has begun to drag out, and may drag out further, the FCC also reminded participants to keep their auction applications (Form 177 for broadcasters, Form 175 for forward auction bidders) up to date, filing any necessary amendments to those applications within five days of a “significant occurrence”.

After being told for the last several years that mobile broadband was a more valuable use of their spectrum, broadcasters might be disappointed in the economic results of Stage 1, but were not truly surprised.  They have been arguing for years that their point-to-multipoint business model is a far more efficient use of spectrum, and that if spectrum is worth less in their hands than in the hands of cell phone companies, it is only because broadcast spectrum is burdened by excessive regulation—regulation that the FCC ironically reaffirmed as essential to the public interest less than a week ago in its Quadrennial Ownership Review.  While the auction may not turn out to be the economic windfall broadcasters had been promised, there may still be some value to it, if only to prove that broadcast spectrum is already being put to its “highest and best” use.

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You can almost hear Agent Maxwell Smart’s trademark “Missed it by that much!”  The FCC quietly announced just after C.O.B. today that “[b]idding in the forward auction has concluded for Stage 1 without meeting the final stage rule and without meeting the conditions to trigger an extended round. The incentive auction will continue with Stage 2 at a lower clearing target.”

When the FCC wrote in its 2014 Spectrum Auction Report and Order that “[w]e are designing the forward auction for speed, so that reverse auction participants need not await its outcome for week or months,” it wasn’t kidding.  The forward auction took just two weeks to conclude, but only because it yielded a highly disappointing $23.1 billion (netting $22.5 billion after auction discounts), a mere quarter of the $88.4 billion the FCC was targeting.  The result is surely disappointing for those intent upon repurposing a big chunk of TV broadcast spectrum for what we were told was an insatiable appetite for mobile broadband spectrum, but even more so for broadcasters that had been told by the FCC that their spectrum was far more valuable for purposes other than broadcasting.

So what’s next? The FCC’s Public Reporting System states that a public notice is on the way, which will announce “details about the next stage, including the clearing target for Stage 2, and the time and date at which bidding in Stage 2 of the reverse auction will begin.”  Given the large mismatch between the amount of spectrum sought by the FCC in Stage 1, and the rather paltry demand revealed by Stage 1, the FCC will have some thinking to do about how many stages of the auction it is willing to endure to achieve equilibrium between spectrum supply and demand.

In the meantime, broadcasters remain subject to the FCC’s rules prohibiting certain communications (a/k/a the “quiet period”) until the FCC releases a public notice announcing the successful completion of the auction.  It looks like that may be a while.