HARLINGEN, RGV – The Federal Communications Commission has called for the freeing up of more spectrum for wireless broadband use by using less spectrum for broadcast television.

The FCC is holding an auction to buy spectrum rights and encouraging television licensees to sell their spectrum so it can be used by wireless carriers.

Wireless carriers such as Sprint, Verizon and AT&T are expected to buy some or all spectrum rights that television stations are willing to sell.

The FCC plans to start the auction March 29, 2016, and expects the bidding to take a few months. When the auction is complete, the FCC will announce successful bids and bidders, as well as channel reassignments for all stations. This announcement would be in the fall or late 2016.

The FCC’s suggested reverse auction opening prices have been published for all 210 media markets in the United States. Brownsville-McAllen-Harlingen is the 86th largest market in the United States. The suggested prices for TV stations in the Rio Grande Valley are:

Move Off Air:

KGBT-TV, $74.4 million
KLUJ-TV, $87.0 million
KMBH, $76.7 million
KNVO, $87.1 million
KRGV-TV, $51.4 million
KTFV-CD, $70.6 million
KTLM, $88.0 million
KVEO-TV, $84.0 million

Move to Low VHF:

KGBT-TV, $55.8 million
KLUJ-TV, $65.2 million
KMBH, $57.5 million
KNVO, $65.3 million
KRGV-TV, $30.0 million
KTFV-CD, $52.9 million
KTLM, $66.0 million
KVEO-TV, $63.0 million

Move to High VHF

KGBT-TV, $29.7 million
KLUJ-TV, $34.8 million
KMBH, $30.7 million
KNVO, $34.8 million
KRGV-TV, NA
KTFV-CD, $28.2 million
KTLM, $35.2 million
KVEO-TV, $33.6 million

I have penned a Frequently Asked Questions feature about the upcoming auction. Here it is:

FAQs : The FCC Broadcast Spectrum Incentive Auction


1. What is spectrum?

The term spectrum refers to the frequencies over which signals can be transmitted for a wide variety of purposes – from baby monitors and cell phones to television shows and more. Radio frequency spectrum is used to transmit electromagnetic signals for a wide range of uses, including microwave ovens, wireless microphones, maritime navigation, radio and television broadcasting, broadband services, and satellite communications.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) manages this natural resource for both commercial and noncommercial use, assigning spectrum rights to specific license holders or classes of users.

2. What is the spectrum incentive auction?

The FCC has called for freeing up more spectrum for wireless broadband use by using less spectrum for broadcast television. The FCC is holding an auction to buy spectrum rights and encouraging television licensees to sell their spectrum so it can be used by wireless carriers. The U.S. government will buy some or all spectrum rights that television stations are willing to sell.

3. Aren’t the airwaves “public” property? Why is the government auctioning them off?

Radio frequency spectrum is a natural resource, and it is public property in the sense that, for more than a century, the government has regulated use of the airwaves, just as it regulates the uses of public lands and the ocean floor within the nation’s territorial waters.

To help fulfill our country’s need for greater wireless broadband access, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is planning to reallocate a portion of broadcast spectrum used by television stations to air programming and make it available for use by wireless carriers.

4. What is the “quiet period”?

The FCC asked for auction applications from stations by January 12, 2016. At that point, the FCC imposed strict prohibitions of any public disclosure of auction strategies, bids or other details.

5. Why does the federal government want spectrum in our area?

The FCC has not determined how much spectrum it intends to purchase. The auction will be competitive and the opening prices will quickly decline, once bidding begins this summer.

6. How will viewers be affected?

In many areas, the FCC will not purchase any broadcast spectrum. In some more densely populated areas, the U.S. government will buy some or all spectrum rights that television stations are willing to sell. Some stations may continue to broadcast on a channel with less coverage or share a channel with another station. Some stations may cease operations entirely, and some communities may lose their public television service.

7. How will the spectrum incentive auction work?

There are three separate but related elements of the spectrum incentive auction:

a. Voluntary Reverse Auction: Television stations can volunteer to sell their spectrum usage rights to the FCC. The FCC will set high opening prices and progressively lower the price it is willing to pay for spectrum until enough stations drop out of the auction and the FCC can buy as much spectrum as it decides at the lowest possible price. The government will see how many and which stations are willing to give up spectrum rights before deciding exactly how much spectrum it will buy, and in which markets. The government may not purchase spectrum from every station that volunteers to sell.

b. Forward Auction: Wireless broadband providers will bid to purchase spectrum. By federal statute, the difference between the amount the broadband providers pay and the television stations receive will fund up to $1.75 billion of stations’ repacking costs with the remainder going to the U.S. Treasury for deficit reduction and other purposes.

c. Mandatory Nationwide Repack: Once the voluntary auction is complete, there will be a mandatory nationwide reorganizing of channels, or repacking, to condense the broadcast band. Any station on any channel in any market may be required to relocate to a new channel within the same band in a process that will take at least three years, given the length of construction time required.

8. When is the auction happening?

The FCC plans to start the auction March 29, 2016, and expects the bidding to take a few months. When the auction is complete, the FCC will announce successful bids and bidders, as well as channel reassignments for all stations. This announcement would be in the fall or late 2016.

The current FCC timetable calls for stations to complete channel sharing or go off the air within three months of the end of the auction. Auction guidelines call for all mandatory channel moves within 39 months of the end of the auction.

9. Will the FCC hold an auction in my community?

Yes. Auctions will be held but the FCC will not necessarily buy spectrum in every community. In October 2015, nearly every television station in the country, commercial and noncommercial, received an opening price from the FCC that reflects the highest price the government would be willing to pay for its spectrum rights if the government decides it needs that spectrum.

10. What will happen AFTER the auction is done?

After the auction, stations will be reorganized, or “repacked.” Many stations, including those that did not participate in the auction, will be reassigned to a new over-the-air channel, although cable or satellite channels may not change. This may include moving to a VHF channel which some viewers may have trouble accessing. Over-the-air viewers will have to rescan their remotes to find local stations that are required by the FCC to change frequencies.

11. Why are television stations involved but not radio?

Many broadcast television channels (channels 14-51) are assigned to a part of the UHF (Ultra- High Frequency) band, which is very conducive to mobile broadband service. FM and AM radio stations are assigned to lower frequencies (FM is on VHF, or Very High Frequency; AM is in MF, or Medium Frequency) that are not useful for wireless broadband service. The government wants to clear TV broadcast stations out of part of the UHF band (roughly, channels 31-51) as much as possible and wants to devote less spectrum overall to broadcast television services.

12. Can a public television station stop broadcasting over the air, yet still be available on cable and stream over the Internet?

If a public television station stops broadcasting over the air, cable and satellite television systems will no longer be required to carry its programming. If a public television station stops broadcasting, it would lose the rights to stream over the Internet most of the familiar programs that are broadcast by public television stations nationwide.

13. If my public television station sells its spectrum, will it go off the air?

Not necessarily – it may change channels or it may go off the air. Stations are licensed to broadcast on a 6 MHz channel of spectrum. Each station can submit a bid to (1) give up its current channel but remain on the air by moving to a different channel on lower frequency spectrum, (2) give up its current channel and share a channel with another television station in the same market, or (3) give up its channel and go off the air. Viewers will be able to tune into lower-frequency or shared channels the same way they currently tune into channels today.

14. What if my station moves to a different channel in a lower band?

Television stations are currently assigned to the low-VHF (channels 2-6), high-VHF (channels 7- 13), or UHF (channels 14-51) band. Stations that agree to give up their current channel and move from the UHF to the VHF band, or from a high-VHF to a low-VHF channel, will stay on the air with reduced technical capacity.

15. Will I still get public television in my community after the auction is over?

In some instances, an interruption of signal could occur, and where stations stop broadcasting, there would be loss of service.

16. If my public television station participates in the spectrum auction, does that mean it won’t need my support?

Contributions from viewers have been and will continue to be essential to the long-term health of public broadcasting, so your continued support will remain critically important. Public television stations will have to use part of their auction proceeds to cover costs associated with channel relocation.

Auction proceeds can help stabilize a station and allow it to provide additional public services that it could not previously afford. Although auction proceeds cannot sustain a station indefinitely, the dollars would allow a station to strengthen its financial footing and engage in new projects. The continued support of members, donors, underwriters and state/federal funding will remain critically important.

17. What happens to the money the station gets from the government – and all the station assets, some of which were purchased with member donations?

If a station’s bid to go off the air is accepted, the government’s one-time payment goes to the licensee.

18. If public television stations channel share or move to the VHF band, will they still air on cable and satellite?

Yes. Under the FCC’s “must carry” and carry-one-carry-all rules, cable and satellite providers have to carry local television services, and these rules will still apply to public television stations moving from UHF to VHF, or from high-VHF to low-VHF (as long as the station still provides an over-the-air signal that reaches the cable and satellite facilities).

19. Will the repacking affect my station’s coverage area?

Repacking is mandatory. Any station on any channel in any market may be forced to relocate during the repacking process following the auction.

The FCC is required by law to make “all reasonable efforts” to preserve the coverage area and population served by broadcasters prior to the auction. However, the FCC has determined that this allows them to introduce some new interference, which means that repacking may result in some loss of coverage area for some stations.

For Additional Information contact:

Federal Communication Commission (FCC) LEARN: http://wireless.fcc.gov/incentiveauctions/learn-program/

Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB): http://www.cpb.org/spectrum/