FCC delays spectrum auctions by several months, until early 2016

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The FCC has postponed its auction of television broadcast spectrum to early 2016, according to a blog post on the commission website Friday.

Gary Epstein, chair of the Incentive Auction Task Force, wrote that “court challenges to the auction rules by some broadcasters have introduced uncertainty” into the run-up to the auction, which is mandated by Congress to clear broadcast bandwidth for the growing number of mobile devices. Under the FCC’s earlier timetable, the auctions had been slated for mid-2015.

Though Epstein didn’t identify the court cases, two organizations’ complaints have been consolidated and are pending before the before the D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals. The National Association of Broadcasters filed a petition in August, challenging the FCC’s methodology for predicting coverage areas of TV stations among other elements. Sinclair Broadcast Group’s suit, filed in September, claims the FCC’s order was “adopted in excess of the commission’s authority.”

In his blog post, Epstein predicted that the court challenges won’t be resolved in time for the auction to proceed on schedule. “We are confident we will prevail in court,” he wrote, but the complexities of the legal fights, as well as ongoing work to design and implement the auction, will push the start date.

“Despite this brief delay,” he noted, “we remain focused on the path to successfully implementing the incentive auction.”