The FCC has released a notice setting the procedures for Auction 93, the FM sell-a-thon set for  next Spring. Get out your calendars . . . and your checkbooks.

With only minor changes to auction rules from the past, the auction will look the same as previous sales conducted by the FCC, at least in terms of the procedures. But if you’re in the market for a channel in Llano or Centerville in Texas, or Dermott, Arkansas, or Cleveland (the one in Mississippi, not the one in Ohio), get set for some heartbreak: the Commission has removed those from the catalog of available channels up for bids. Because of pending rulemaking petitions proposing (among other things) substitution frequencies in those towns, the Commission pulled the four channels off the table for this auction. But that still leaves 119 channels up for grabs.

And there’s good news if you’ve got your heart set on the Grants Pass, Oregon channel. Originally priced to move with an opening bid of $35,000, that channel has been marked down to $15,000. One commenter argued that the original opening price was too high. Of course, that commenter’s suggested alternative price – a risibly paltry $750 – was a non-starter, as far as the Commission was concerned. Still, a reduction of more than 50% is nothing to sneeze at. (Note, though, that it would take only about nine rounds of spirited bidding for the price of the channel to get back to $35,000.)  

All of the remaining 118 permits will start with the same prices proposed by the FCC back in September

Potential bidders should mark their calendars with the following important dates:

January 3, 2012 – 12:00 noon ET – Short-Form Application (FCC Form 175) filing window opens.

January 12, 2012 – 6:00 p.m. ET – Short-Form Application (FCC Form 175) filing window deadline. The deadline for applications marks the beginning of the FCC’s very strict anti-collusion period. Bidders that intend to form consortia or otherwise partner with other bidders should have reached an agreement and disclosed it to the FCC by this deadline. Auction communications between or among bidders after this date could expose bidders to disqualification and hefty fines.

February 22, 2012 – 6:00 p.m. ET – Upfront Payments (via wire transfer). Based upon the markets that a bidder has selected in its January Short-Form Application, funds must be wired to the FCC as an upfront deposit to prove that the bidder is genuinely interested in participating in the auction.

March 27, 2012 – Auction Begins

In mid-March, the FCC will let bidders know how many rounds of bidding will take place during the first few days. Depending upon the level of participation, it may take as little as a few days or as many as several weeks for the auction to end. The FCC’s anti-collusion rules will remain in effect throughout the auction (and for some time beyond the close of the bidding — keep an eye out for an announcement of when the coast is clear).  Those rules should be carefully followed.

Anyone who has any potential interest in participating in Auction 93 should review the notice in detail.  While there’s still more than four months to go before the bidding starts, anyone interested in participating should take advantage of the time to perform due diligence about the channels they’ve got their eyes on. Remember what the Commission has said repeatedly in the past (and has said yet again in the Auction 93 Notice):

The FCC makes no representations or warranties about the use of this spectrum for particular services. Applicants should be aware that an FCC auction represents an opportunity to become an FCC permittee in a broadcast service, subject to certain conditions and regulations. An FCC auction does not constitute an endorsement by the FCC of any particular service, technology, or product, nor does an FCC construction permit or license constitute a guarantee of business success.

(And yes, the Commission itself made that ominous advisory even more ominous with the boldface emphasis.)

The Commission is also offering an online auction tutorial, which should be available as of January 3, 2012.  (Look for an “Auction Tutorial” link on the FCC’s Auction 93 webpage.) It’s for newbies or folks who want to re-gain their auction chops.  (The online tutorial replaces the bidder seminars which the Commission offered in the run-up to previous auctions.)

Additionally, the Commission will conduct a “mock auction” on March 23, 2012, again to permit folks to dust off any cobwebs and be ready to jump right in when the bidding starts for real on March 27.