The FCC’s broadcast incentive auctions are complete, and 175 winning broadcasters will receive more than $10 billion.
In all, 30 stations will move to a lower channel and 133 others will give up their licenses but will remain on air through channel-sharing agreements with non-winning stations.
The FCC also announced the new channel assignments and their effective dates for 957 non-winning stations. These stations must clear the new wireless airwaves for use by changing channels. The first group of stations to switch channels is scheduled for November 30, 2018, according to a news release (PDF).
Among the individual winning stations, WWTO-TV in Chicago received the largest amount of compensation at more than $304 million. The largest payout for a non-commercial station was $194 million.
NBCUniversal-owned television stations relinquished spectrum in three of its duopoly markets—New York (NBC - WNBC), Philadelphia (Telemundo - WWSI), and Chicago (Telemundo - WSNS)—and received total proceeds of $481.6 million. All three of those stations plan to stay on the air through channel-sharing agreements.
Interestingly, while big mobile operators like Verizon sat out of the auctions, NBC parent Comcast bid big, spending $1.7 billion to win some of the 600 MHz spectrum licenses.
Another big winner in the auctions was Dell CEO Michael Dell, who was able to turn around his investments in small broadcast TV stations for a sizable profit. Through his investment arm OTA Broadcasting, Dell sold 10 broadcast licenses for $440 million after years earlier spending $90 million to buy 24 stations, according to The Wall Street Journal.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai sounded relieved that the auctions were at last concluded but reiterated the call for continued diligence during the channel repack process.
“This day has been a long time coming. We congratulate all bidders who were successful in the incentive auction, and we applaud all of those past and present Commission staffers who worked so diligently on every aspect of this complex undertaking. We have only reached this point because of their tremendous skill and dedication to this groundbreaking endeavor,” said Pai in a statement (PDF). “Again: While we celebrate reaching the official close of the auction, there is still much work ahead of us. It’s now imperative that we move forward with equal zeal to ensure a successful post-auction transition, including a smooth and efficient repacking process.”
National Association of Broadcasters President and CEO Gordon Smith also congratulated the FCC on finishing the auctions but warned against adhering to the current 39-month repack timeline, which he called a “very tight time frame.”
"NAB also remains concerned about the impact of the auction on hundreds of radio stations co-located on television towers. We look forward to working with the FCC and Congress to develop a balanced approach to repacking that is fair to all stakeholders, most importantly our tens of millions of TV viewers and radio listeners,” said Smith in a statement.
Other interested parties in the wireless industry again urged that the channel repack process happen as quickly as possible so the newly available 84 MHz of spectrum can be put to use soon for mobile services.
“This ‘repacking’—overseen by the FCC—will be a complicated, coordinated process achieved over several phases to minimize disruption to broadcasters, but the sooner it moves forward the better. The faster the repacking process takes place, clearing this fresh spectrum to be put into service, the sooner we see the true benefits of this historic auction,” said Doug Brake, senior telecom policy analyst for the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, in a statement.