FCC Spectrum Auction FAQ

What is the “spectrum auction”?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will conduct a “spectrum auction” in 2016. Spectrum is used to transmit electromagnetic signals for a wide-range of uses, including television broadcasting, cell phones, microwaves, wireless microphones, radio, and navigation equipment, among many others. This means that the federal government will be buying spectrum from television broadcast license holders (in a process called a “Reverse Auction”) and selling purchased spectrum to wireless companies (such as Verizon, AT&T, etc.) so that they can provide broader service to users of mobile and other wireless devices.

There are three separate but related elements of the spectrum auction:

Voluntary Reverse Auction: In a reverse auction, unlike in a traditional (forward) auction, the prices or bids decrease in each round. Thus, while the FCC’s opening bid prices may be significant for certain broadcast license holders, these are the maximum prices that the FCC is willing to pay for the spectrum and are expected to fall significantly during the course of the reverse auction as broadcast license holders compete to sell their spectrum to the FCC. Since this is a voluntary auction, some broadcasters will choose not to participate.

Voluntary Forward Auction: Wireless broadband providers may bid to purchase that spectrum from the FCC in this traditional auction.

Mandatory Nationwide Repack: Once the voluntary auctions are complete, there will be a mandatory nationwide reorganizing of channels, or repacking, to condense the broadcast band. Any station on any channel in any market may be required to relocate to a new frequency within the same band in a process that will take at least three years to complete. The current channel numbers are unlikely to change, and the impact is expected to be minimal to viewers.

Will WTCI be participating in the spectrum auction?

Like many other commercial and non-commercial broadcast license holders, WTCI is evaluating the FCC spectrum auction to determine the best course of action for our viewers and the long-term health of the station. WTCI will make a decision by January 12, 2016.


How much will spectrum sellers be paid?

It is not possible to know how much spectrum sellers will be paid. While the reported opening bid prices may be significant (see above) because of the nature of a reverse auction, they are the maximum initial bids which are expected to fall significantly during the course of the auction. The final prices that the FCC is paying spectrum sellers will not be made public until the process is complete.


What will the spectrum money be used for?

Any auction proceeds, and it is premature at this time to assume what if any there will be, would be a one-time-only source of revenue and would be used to benefit the operations and the viewers of WTCI. WTCI has been serving our community for over 40 years, with meaningful programming that educates, inspires and entertains, and with free access to online educational resources for teachers, students and life-long learners. We are mindful of the trust that the public has placed in us and we intend to honor that trust in any decision made with regard to the FCC spectrum auction.


Is WTCI “selling out” to wireless companies such as Verizon and AT&T to make a profit?

The government determined that there was a need for additional spectrum to accommodate growing wireless technology needs; the decision to sell to wireless companies was its own. WTCI is still assessing the spectrum auction, but our commitment to the community has, and always will be, the driving force behind any decision that we make.


Who holds the license for WTCI?

The Greater Chattanooga Public Television Corporation holds FCC licenses for the station. We are a community licensee.


How much spectrum does WTCI own?

WTCI doesn't 'own' spectrum. WTCI is licensed to use six megahertz of UHF spectrum.


If WTCI decides to participate in the auction, will there be a change in the coverage areas? Will areas that receive public television no longer receive public television?

Since we are still evaluating the spectrum auction, it is premature to say. Be assured that any action we take is predicated on maintaining the broadest possible access to public media.


Will the repacking affect the stations’ coverage area?

We believe that it is the FCC’s intent to minimize the impact on viewers in the mandatory repack.


Will the viewer notice any noticeable differences or changes throughout the auction process?



What does “channel sharing” mean?

“Channel sharing,” in the spectrum auction context, means that a television licensee opts to sell its spectrum in the auction in order to share a television channel with another licensee.


Aren’t the airwaves “public” property? Why is the government auctioning them off?

Radio frequency spectrum is a natural resource and Congress has given the FCC the responsibility to manage it in the best interest of the American public. In a law passed by Congress called “The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012,” the FCC was given the authority to conduct the spectrum auction in order to better manage and allocate the available spectrum, as a result of the nation’s increased demand for wireless communication.


If WTCI decides to make an auction bid and it is accepted, does that mean it won’t need viewers’ support?

Contributions from viewers have been and will continue to be essential to the long-term health of WTCI, so continued support from the community will remain critically important.

If you have specific questions, please contact spectruminfo@wtciTV.org before January 12, 2016.



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