The US Federal Communications Commission pushed back its proposed “incentive auction”, which would have seen spectrum released by broadcasters sold for use by mobile broadband services, citing legal challenges from broadcasters which have introduced “uncertainty”.
In a blog post, Gary Epstein, chair of the watchdog’s incentive auction ‘Task Force’, said that a US court has now issued a schedule in which final briefs are not due until late January 2015, with oral arguments to follow at a later date, “with a decision not likely until mid-2015”.
Epstein said that while the FCC is “confident we will prevail in court”, the schedule, alongside the complexity of designing and implementing the auction, and the need for participants to have time to prepare, means that it now “anticipates accepting applications for the auction in the fall [Autumn] of 2015 and starting the auction early in 2016”.
Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC, had previously been targeting an auction in mid-2015. However, the process has not been eased by the differing viewpoints of the various participants involved – the broadcasters and mobile operators – who do not necessarily agree with their peers.
At CTIA Super Mobility Week in September, Wheeler said that operators need to be firm in their plans.
“Let’s talk turkey. Many broadcasters have been led to believe that demand for spectrum is not as the mobile industry has claimed. As a result, they believe carriers will not fully participate in auction,” he said.
AT&T has been the most vocal of the mobile operators with regard to supporting the auction, stating it will bid “at least $9 billion” if sufficient spectrum to meet its needs is available. But there will be some restrictions on the amount of spectrum it and Verizon Wireless can buy, reflecting their existing low-band (sub 1GHz) allocations.
Unsurprisingly, T-Mobile US has taken a bullish approach, arguing the auction “can’t happen soon enough”. US broadcaster Dish Network has also stated its interest.