Articles Posted in Spectrum

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At the end of Stage 2 of the Spectrum Auction, I wrote about bidder fatigue and the hope that the FCC would drop its spectrum clearing target a couple of notches for Stage 3 to expedite the conclusion of a now seemingly interminable auction.  Unfortunately, the FCC held fast to its incremental approach.  As a result, the FCC attempted to clear 108 MHz in Stage 3, leading to a reverse auction that lasted 30 days and resulted in a $40.3B target for the forward auction.  That was roughly double the amount of money bid in the forward auction in Stages 1 and 2.  Also, with the Stage 2 forward auction concluding after only one round of bids, it seemed unlikely the skies would suddenly open up and start raining big-dollar forward bidders in Stage 3.

That has now proven true, as the Stage 3 forward auction commenced at 10am this morning and officially ended at 12:01pm.  Like Stage 2, it lasted only a single round of bidding.  Technically, it concluded even faster than Stage 2, which took 2 hours and 14 minutes before being declared over, a whole 13 minutes longer than today’s auction.  Having taken six years to reach this point, the fact that we are measuring entire auction stages in minutes is disappointing to say the least.

The good news?  The FCC is apparently feeling at least some urgency to move the auction along to a conclusion, announcing today that it anticipates launching the Stage 4 reverse auction on Tuesday, December 13.  Unfortunately, with the Stage 1, 2, and 3 reverse auctions taking 28 days, 30 days, and 30 days respectively, even a fast-moving Stage 4 can’t conclude the auction in 2016.

While the forward auction bid totals have dropped in every stage of the auction as the amount of spectrum being sold has dropped ($23.1B in Stage 1, $21.5B in Stage 2, and now $19.7B in Stage 3), the totals have been fairly consistent.  To declare the auction concluded, the FCC will at a minimum need forward auction payments to cover the reverse auction total, the $1.75B for repacking, and the several hundred million in auction expenses incurred.

As a result, the spectrum clearing target will likely need to drop until the total bids in the reverse auction are less than $17B.  That would allow the FCC to cover the reverse auction payments for spectrum plus the roughly $2B in repacking costs and auction-related expenses if the forward auction still brings in $19B or so.  However, since the total forward bids have dropped a bit in each stage, it’s reasonable to assume that trend will continue, meaning total reverse auction bids will need to drop significantly below $17B for the auction to finally conclude.  That’s quite a way from today’s $40+B target and, barring some surprises, makes it likely the auction will see a Stage 5 and perhaps a Stage 6, taking us far into 2017.

When the National Broadband Plan was announced by the FCC in 2010 as a way of repurposing spectrum while reducing the federal deficit, broadcasters were, for the most part, decidedly uninterested in the reverse auction.  Only after the FCC presented sky-high valuations for broadcast spectrum in the Greenhill Report did shareholders insist broadcast companies take a closer look.  It now looks like that initial disinterest was fully justified, with most broadcasters having spent more on their auction participation and forgoing deal opportunities during the “quiet period” than they can ever hope to derive from the auction itself.

So broadcasters’ first instinct regarding the Spectrum Auction may well have been the right one.  And that part about the excess auction proceeds reducing the federal budget deficit?  Turns out that’s not happening either.

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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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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.

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In a long-anticipated move towards commencement of the spectrum auction, the FCC today released a Public Notice and related Appendix providing an initial clearing target of 126 Megahertz of spectrum in what is currently the broadcast television band. The 126 MHz figure represents the targeted amount of spectrum to be repurposed from broadcast television to mobile wireless uses.  The FCC also announced that bidding in the reverse auction will commence on May 31, 2016.

The 126 MHz target is the highest the FCC was contemplating, and indicates that a large number of television stations have chosen to participate in the auction.  By setting a high clearing target, the FCC is maximizing the amount of broadcast spectrum purchased, but increasing the risk that if there is insufficient interest in the forward auction for this amount of spectrum (at the prices the FCC needs to pay selling broadcasters and cover other costs), the auction may have to be redone with a lower clearing target.

In the forward auction, the FCC will offer 10 paired blocks of spectrum, each block comprised of 10 MHz, to mobile wireless bidders.  The remaining 26 MHz of spectrum to be cleared will be used for guard band and duplex gap purposes; i.e., to protect adjacent users from interference.  If the auction is completed with the 126 MHz clearing target, the post-auction television broadcast band will consist of VHF channels 2-13 and UHF channels 14-29.  The process of repacking stations into channels 2-29 would commence following completion of the auction, and is estimated by the FCC to take approximately three years, although many have questioned whether that is sufficient time for the repack.

With the release of the clearing target information, the FCC has locked in all of the following dates for auction-related events:

May 4, 2016, noon:  Date by which each television broadcast licensee that made an initial commitment in the reverse auction must receive a third confidential status letter from the FCC.  That letter will inform the applicant whether its station(s) will be qualified to participate in the reverse auction.  Applicants who have not received this letter by noon (Eastern Time) on May 4 should contact the FCC Auctions Hotline at (717)338-2868.

May 5, 2016: FCC Incentive Auction Reverse Auction Bidding System User Guide available on Auctions webpage.

May 18, 2016:  Online Bidding Tutorial available on Auctions webpage.

May 23, 2016, 10 a.m.:  Bidding Preview Period begins.

May 24, 2016, 10 a.m.:  Clock Phase Workshop.

May 24, 2016, 6 p.m.:  Bidding Review Period ends.

May 25, 2016, 10 a.m.:  Mock Auction Bidding Round 1.  Additional Mock Auction Rounds occur throughout May 25 and May 26.

May 31, 2016:  Bidding in the reverse auction commences for qualified applicants, with a single round of bidding on May 31 and June 1, and two rounds per day starting on June 2.

While it is unclear how many rounds of bidding will be required before the auction closes, or whether the 126 MHz target might lead to a repeat of the reverse auction, today’s news brings a palpable sense that the auction has really begun.  How successful the auction will be for broadcasters, mobile wireless companies, and the FCC will be a developing story.  Stay tuned for more updates.

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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:

  • Noncommercial FM Broadcaster Fined $10,000 for Public Inspection File Violations
  • TV Licensee Faces $20,000 Fine for Untimely Filing of 16 Children’s TV Programming Reports
  • Man Agrees to $2,360 Fine for Using GPS Jamming Device at Newark Airport

FCC Refuses to Take Pity on “Mom and Pop” FM Public Broadcaster With Public Inspection File Violations

The FCC’s Media Bureau denied a New York noncommercial FM licensee’s Petition for Reconsideration of a March 2015 Forfeiture Order, affirming a $10,000 fine against the licensee for failing to place 13 Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists in the station’s public inspection file.

Section 73.3527 of the FCC’s Rules requires noncommercial educational licensees to maintain a public inspection file containing specific types of information related to station operations. Among the materials required for inclusion in the file are the station’s Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists, which must be retained until final Commission action on the station’s next license renewal application. Issues/Program Lists detail programs that have provided the station’s most significant treatment of community issues during the preceding quarter.

In February 2014, the licensee filed an application for renewal of the station’s license, which it had acquired from a university in 2010 after the university decided to defund the station. In the application, the licensee admitted that the station’s public inspection file was missing 13 Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists, commencing with the licensee’s acquisition of the station in 2010.

In March 2015, the FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture in the amount of $10,000, the base fine for a public inspection file violation. The licensee filed a Petition for Reconsideration, urging the FCC to withdraw the fine. While the licensee did not dispute the violations, it explained that it had a history of compliance with the FCC’s rules, and that it was the public radio equivalent of a “mom-and-pop-operation.” It further explained that it only had several employees and volunteers, including an unpaid manager, and was under constant financial strain.

In response, the FCC contacted the station on three separate occasions in 2015 to request that the licensee provide documentation supporting its claim of financial hardship. After receiving no response to these requests, the FCC chose not to reduce the fine based on financial hardship when it issued the resulting Forfeiture Order. In addition, the FCC chose not to reduce the fine based on the station’s history of compliance with the rules because of the “extensive” nature of the violations. Ultimately, however, the FCC stated that it would grant the license renewal application upon the conclusion of the forfeiture proceeding if “there are no issues other than the violations discussed here that would preclude grant of the application.”

Sour Sixteen: Failing to Timely File 16 Children’s TV Programming Reports Nets Proposed $20,000 Fine

A Texas TV licensee is facing a $20,000 fine for failing to timely file sixteen Children’s Television Programming Reports.

Section 73.3526 of the FCC’s Rules requires each commercial broadcast licensee to maintain a public inspection file containing specific information related to station operations. Subsection 73.3526(e)(11)(iii) requires a commercial licensee to prepare and place in its public inspection file a Children’s Television Programming Report for each calendar quarter. The report sets forth the efforts the station made during that quarter and has planned for the next quarter to serve the educational and informational needs of children. Licensees are required to file the reports with the FCC and place them in their public files by the tenth day of the month following the quarter. Continue reading →

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It’s not just high school seniors who should be waiting by the mailbox for a thick package to arrive this coming week.  All television stations that filed a Form 177 application in Auction 1001 should be looking for their Second Confidential Status Letter between today and March 22nd.  The FCC has released a Public Notice stating that the letters have now been mailed to auction applicants.

THE SECOND CONFIDENTIAL STATUS LETTER REQUIRES A SIGNATURE

The Second Confidential Status Letter was sent to the contact person for each applicant.  Someone must be available to sign for the package.  It does not have to be the contact person, but applicants will want to be sure someone is available at the address used in their Form 177 to sign for the package.

APPLICANTS THAT DO NOT RECEIVE THEIR LETTER BY NOON ET ON MARCH 22ND MUST CONTACT THE AUCTIONS HOTLINE BY TELEPHONE

The Second Confidential Status Letter will inform applicants as to whether their Form 177 applications have been deemed complete.  Those applicants whose applications are deemed complete with respect to at least one selected station will receive the SecurID tokens for each of the applicants’ authorized bidders.  To participate in the auction, the applicant will need the SecurID token, the FCC-assigned Username associated with that token, and the password associated with that licensee’s Federal Registration Number.  Note that group owners that hold licenses in multiple licensees will receive a token and Username for each licensee and will have to sign in to the auction system separately for each licensee.

The Second Confidential Status Letter will also provide applicants with instructions for signing in to the auction online system and submitting their Initial Commitment by the deadline of 6:00 p.m. ET on March 29, 2016.  As we have previously written, there will be a preview period beginning at 10:00 a.m. on March 24, 2016.  All applicants should sign in to the system during the preview period to familiarize themselves with the system.

The FCC held a Workshop on March 11th to educate applicants about the Initial Commitment process.  The presentation is available for review here.  In the Initial Commitment, applicants will have the opportunity to designate their preferred relinquishment option from among the relinquishment option(s) they selected on their Form 177.  Any applicant that selects the “Go Off Air” option will be accommodated, unless the FCC determines that their station is not needed.  Stations that select one of the options to move to the High VHF or Low VHF band will also have the ability to select one or more “fall back” options.

It is important for applicants to understand their Initial Commitment options.  Once the Initial Commitment window closes, the FCC will take several weeks to recalculate its spectrum clearing targets.  The FCC will then send applicants a Final Confidential Status Letter which will advise them whether their station is needed in the auction (recall that when the FCC released the opening bids, it identified some stations that would not be needed in the auction because its analysis showed those stations will always have a channel to repack to, regardless of the elections made by other broadcasters).  Stations previously deemed needed could be recategorized as not needed based on the information the FCC receives in the Initial Commitments.

In addition, any station that selects the move to High VHF or Low VHF band in the Initial Commitment window will be informed whether that selection can be accommodated.  If a station making a VHF selection cannot be accommodated because of the limited number of channels available in that band, the station will be repacked in its original band and not be eligible to participate in the auction unless the station has selected a “fall back” option that can be accommodated.  As noted, the “Go Off Air” option can always be accommodated unless the station is deemed not needed.

The learning curve for the Broadcast Incentive Auction is steep.  Applicants should take advantage of the educational materials that the FCC has released thus far, and keep a sharp eye out for the arrival of the Second Confidential Status Letter.

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Today, the FCC posted to the Auction 1001 website the Reverse Auction Initial Commitment User Guide and Online Tutorial.  Broadcasters that submitted an FCC Form 177 to participate in the Reverse Auction should review these materials to gain a better understanding of how the system will work so that they are prepared to participate when the Initial Commitment Window opens.  The Tutorial is easy to use, and you can pause it as needed to study and better understand the materials.  The User Guide is largely duplicative, but does contain important information such as technical requirements for using the system and contact information for help troubleshooting problems.

A few informational highlights include:

Important Dates:

  • March 28, 2016 10am ET – March 29, 2016 6pm ET: The Initial Commitment Window – a total of 32 hours – during which broadcasters must file their Initial Commitments. The Initial Commitment may be changed until the close of the window, but if no commitment is made by the close of the window, the station will be excluded from the auction and repacked in its pre-auction band.
  • March 24, 2016 10am ET – March 28, 2016 9:59am ET: The Initial Commitment Preview Period – a four-day period during which all participating stations are encouraged to log into the system, set their PINs, and view the list of stations and Relinquishment Options available to them.

What to Do in the Preview Period:  During the Preview Period, broadcasters should log in to the system and familiarize themselves with it. You will understand why this is important as you read through the paragraph below.

To log in to the system for the first time, each authorized bidder must activate their FCC-supplied RSA token (which displays a code randomly generated every 60 seconds) and select a PIN. To do so, select the “Click here for the login screen” link, enter the FCC-assigned Username for the authorized bidder logging in, the password associated with the FRN listed on the licensee’s Form 177, and the current code displayed on the FCC-supplied RSA token.  Click the Log In button.  Next, choose a 4-8 digit PIN, enter it twice in the fields provided, and click the Continue button.  There is a limited time to complete this step, with the remaining time shown on the screen.  On the next screen, type in the PIN you selected and the code shown on the RSA token.  This code cannot be the same as the one used on the prior screen.  If that code is still showing (because you have proceeded through these steps in less than 60 seconds), wait for the next code to appear.  Click the Continue button.

Once these steps are completed, each authorized bidder will log in by entering the bidder’s FCC-assigned Username, the password associated with the licensee’s FRN, the PIN selected in the step above, and the current code shown on the RSA token assigned to that bidder. Multiple bidders for a licensee can be logged into the system at the same time, but only one will be able to place bids at a time.

Overview of the System:  Once logged in, the broadcaster will see three options displayed on a navigation bar to the left of the screen: Make Commitment, Messages, and Station Info.  In addition, clocks showing the current date and time as well as the countdown to the opening of the Initial Commitment Window are displayed.

Make Commitment:  When clicking on this tab, the broadcaster will see its station or stations, if they have been deemed eligible to participate.  The Preferred Relinquishment option the broadcaster selected in its Form 177 (and the associated opening bid) will appear in a column to the right of the call sign.  To choose this Relinquishment Option as the station’s Initial Commitment, the broadcaster need only click the “Submit” button and will then see a green checkmark appear.  If the station has additional options available to it based on its frequency band and the selections the station made in its Form 177, these are available from a dropdown menu under the Preferred Relinquishment option.  As noted above, the FCC indicates that the choice the station makes from among these options can be changed until the end of the Initial Commitment Window.  Stations that no longer wish to participate in the auction will select the “Decline Commitments” option from the dropdown menu.

If the broadcaster chooses either the Move to a High VHF channel or Move to a Low VHF channel option as its Preferred Relinquishment choice, a window will open advising that the system will attempt to fulfill this choice, but that because of limited channels in the VHF band, this option is not guaranteed. These stations will be given fallback options, if available to them based on their Form 177 choices, and the option to decline fallback options.  It is important to understand the impact of selecting a VHF band option.  If the choice can be accommodated, it will be.  If the option cannot be accommodated, the station will be eliminated from the auction and repacked in its current band, unless one or more fallback options has been selected.

Messages:  In this section, FCC staff can communicate with the licensee and the licensee can communicate with FCC staff.  All authorized bidders for a station can see messages sent by that station’s other authorized bidders as long as they are logged into the system.

Station Info: This section lists all of the licensee’s stations that are eligible to participate in the auction, along with the Relinquishment Option(s) available to each station based on its frequency band and the station’s selections in its Form 177.  This is the only section that the broadcaster can see during the Preview Period.

The FCC has also announced an Initial Commitment Window Workshop to take place on March 11, 2016 from 10am – 1pm ET.  Participants can attend in person or watch online remotely, and the FCC’s staff highly recommends those interested in participating in the reverse auction also participate in the Workshop.  The FCC has said that additional tutorials and resources for participation in the next stages of the auction will be made available to licensees at a later date.  Those, however, will only be useful to broadcasters that successfully make their Initial Commitment, so time to open the Tutorial and start studying.

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The FCC today released a Public Notice with instructions for filing Form 177, the application for licensees of full-power and Class A TV stations to participate in the reverse auction. As a reminder, the FCC recently extended the application filing deadline, so the filing window now begins at noon Eastern Time on December 8, 2015 and runs until 6 p.m. Eastern Time on January 12, 2016. The auction itself, however, is still on track to begin March 29, 2016.

To access Form 177, applicants must use their FRN and associated password to log into the Auction System, accessible at http://auctions.fcc.gov/ (primary location) or http://auctions2.fcc.gov/ (secondary location).  As detailed in Attachment 1 to the Public Notice, the Form requires applicants to (i) provide, among other things, basic information about their legal classification, contact information, and authorized bidders; (ii) identify one or more relinquishment options for each station; (iii) disclose information about their ownership structure; and (iv) make certain certifications.

If an applicant has entered into an executed channel sharing agreement as a sharee for the station(s) at issue, the applicant must upload at least two channel sharing attachments before submitting the application: (i) a channel sharer certification, and (ii) an unredacted copy of the executed channel sharing agreement. A Channel Sharer Certification for full-power station sharers is attached to the Public Notice as Attachment 2, and one for Class A station sharers is included as Attachment 3.

The Auction System will display both “error” and “warning” messages for each section of the Form prior to allowing an applicant to file. While the Form cannot be submitted with an uncorrected error message, the Auction System will allow applicants to proceed to the Certify & Submit screen even if the application has a warning message. The FCC cautions that applicants should not rely on their ability to certify and submit an application with a warning message as evidence that the FCC has approved the submission, and reminds applicants that the automated check may not catch all errors.

The FCC will allow you to make as many changes as you’d like to an application during the filing window, and will not consider information in your application until you click the CERTIFY & SUBMIT button.  You can even withdraw a previously submitted application up until the close of the filing window.  So while you should strive to get it right the first time, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again (until 6 p.m. Eastern Time January 12)!  And, if 22 pages of instructions aren’t helpful enough, you may want to check out the FCC’s reverse auction tutorial regarding the pre-auction process, which will be available online tomorrow, November 20, 2015 on the Auction 1001 website.