FCC pushes TV spectrum auction to 2016 after legal challenge

Complexity and a court petition by broadcasters will introduce delays, FCC Chairman Wheeler said

The auction intended to turn many U.S. TV channels into spectrum for mobile services won't start until early 2016, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission says.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler had earlier forecast that the auction would begin in the middle of next year. But in August, the National Association of Broadcasters challenged some aspects of the agency's plan in court. Due to the schedule for briefings and hearings in that case, plus the complexity of putting together the auction, the agency has pushed back its calendar. It now expects to start accepting applications in fall 2015 and to launch the auction early the following year, according to an FCC blog post on Friday.

In the so-called incentive auction, the FCC will ask the owners of TV stations to switch to different frequencies, freeing up highly desirable spectrum in the 600MHz band for mobile carriers and other users. Part of the billions that mobile operators would pay for that spectrum would go back to the station owners. But many broadcasters have resisted the plan, and Wheeler has compared the process of constructing the unprecedented auction to solving a Rubik's Cube.

CTIA, the main industry group for U.S. mobile operators, said Friday that its members are ready and willing to bid in the now-delayed auction.

"Today's action underscores the need to resolve the pending litigation over the FCC's rules expeditiously. When the auction is held, mobile companies will have their checkbooks ready to participate in this critical auction that will be key to our nation's wireless future," CTIA Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Scott Bergmann said in a prepared statement.

Congress called for the auction in 2012, expecting about US$29 billion in proceeds that would be used partly to reduce the federal deficit and partly to fund a national LTE public-safety network. It's one of the biggest parts of an FCC plan to make more spectrum available to carry growing amounts of mobile data traffic. The 600MHz band is ideal for mobile services because signals there go farther and penetrate walls better than higher frequencies can.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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