False Alarm: The Incentive Auction AUCTIONS Do Not Begin Next Week

Yesterday the NAB policy blog opened their most recent post with this statement:

These are exciting times. The long-anticipated broadcast television spectrum incentive auction is scheduled to begin in less than one week.

(Those who want to enjoy the NAB’s FCC tongue-lashing in the rest of the post, proceed. )

Although correct, when taken out of context, this statement is alarming. Some of this alarm spilled over into the pro audio twitter and blogosphere.

Fear not.

The forward and reverse auction mechanisms that actually transfer spectrum licenses from the hands of broadcasters to the FCC, and then sell them back to bidders DO NOT begin next week.

I repeat, the “auctions,” as the pro sound community think of them, are not due to begin for a number of months.

What the NAB and other authorities are referring to this week is the legal start date of the (now) unstoppable steam train that is the entire incentive auction process in its grandeur, which formally begins on March 29th with the final “Commitment Deadline,” which is the deadline that broadcasters must inform, in writing, the FCC that they plan to participate in the auctions—but not the auctions themselves.

I can't explain it any better than Gary Epstein, Chair of the Incentive Auction Task Force—a rare public appearance from the master architect behind a legal and economic instrument of herculean complexity that faced, and defeated, many challenges, with more challenges (but none of them in courts of law) to come.

A loose timeline for this steam train's itinerary can be found here

As you can see, the forward/reverse auctions are not scheduled to begin for some time.

In fact, there is no scheduled date for the forward/reverse auction, because the FCC requires commitment from both broadcasters and bidders to begin calculating the auction scenarios, which will determine the date of the real deal.

Finally, once the auction “auctions” (forward+reverse) begin and conclude, wireless audio users, depending on their status (licensed vs. unlicensed), will still have up to 39 months (that’s a long time: years) to vacate reclaimed spectrum.

*Leading image, "Lot 9439-11: Powerful Air Raid Siren. The city of Seattle, Washington" courtesy of the National Museum of the U.S. Navy.