What is the FCC’s Spectrum Incentive Auction and why you should care

When you tune your radio or TV to a channel, communication signals travel over the air via radio frequency, also known as spectrum. The TV broadcast you watch, the radio program you listen to, the GPS device that helps get you where you’re going, and the wireless phone service you use to make phone calls and check Facebook from your smartphone — all use invisible airwaves — spectrum — to transmit bits of data through the air.

Spectrum Auction Overview – What, When and Why it Matters

Anything that requires wireless transmission such as radio, television, wireless, satellite, even microphones have different frequencies upon which they operate, generally licensed to them by the Federal government. The UHF spectrum where most television can be found is ideal for the growing demands of smartphones and tablets, and the demand is increasing dramatically.

In a process that will begin this fall, the FCC will ask broadcasters to relinquish their space in the spectrum in exchange for money. The spectrum obtained in this auction will then be sold to wireless providers, increasing their capacity to provide wireless and broadband services that are increasingly demanded by consumers and businesses.

Because this slice of the spectrum is in such high demand, broadcasters are facing a potential windfall. And while it might sound tempting to “take the money and run” this decision can’t be undone. Once a station relinquishes their broadcast license, that’s it.

There are several scenarios in the auction other than selling. A broadcaster could “channel share” with someone else (split the signal with another station in the same market), they could shift to a new location on the VHF sector of the spectrum, or they could do nothing.  There are arguments for and against each of these options, and KLRU has established a task force of its Board to look at the options.

So where does this leave the viewer? The biggest impact would be felt by those who watch television over-the-air. They could potentially lose reception from stations they once received or stations could disappear entirely. Broadcasters may continue to produce content and serve online and cable/satellite audiences, but they could choose to discontinue “broadcasting” over the air.

Later this Fall stations will start the auction process and indicate to the FCC their interest in participation. The auction is slated to begin in late March 2016 and could take weeks or months to complete.

Regardless of participation, stations may also be “repacked” which would result in channel reassignment and infrastructure costs.

At the heart of KLRU’s deliberations is a simple question: What is the best option to support public media in Central Texas, and especially our viewers, members, and others who have a stake in independent, high quality, educational programs?

KLRU is interested to hear your reaction and/or questions in this process. Please contact us at
Spectrum@klru.org