The FCC has released a notice setting the procedures for Auction 94, the FM bid-fest set for next Spring.  Get out your checkbooks . . . and your calendars – since, as we predicted a couple of months ago, the schedule of events initially announced back then has been changed.

The auction will look much the same as previous sales conducted by the FCC, at least in terms of the procedures. But be prepared for disappointment if, based on the Commission’s initial listing of channels up for bids, you had your heart set on getting a station in: Newark, Maryland (not New Jersey, or even Delaware); or Arlington, Oregon (not Texas or even Virginia); or Rocksprings, Texas, Chincoteague, Virginia, or Baggs, Wyoming. All five of those channels have been pulled from this year’s auction because they had been inadvertently omitted from a 2006 version of the Table of FM Allotments. Oops. No problem, though – they’ll all presumably be available in a future auction. And anyway, you’ve still got 112 channels to bid on this time around.

Anybody looking to set up shop in the Great Northwest should be pleased, because the minimum opening bids on three Washington State channels have been slashed dramatically. Class A channels at Oak Harbor, Sequim and Sedro-Wooley (presumably not to be confused with Sheb Wooley of “Purple People Eater” fame) initially commanded minimum bids of $25,000, $20,000 and $45,000, respectively. Forget all that. Bidding for Oak Harbor will now be starting at a paltry $15,000 – that’s a 40% reduction! But wait, there’s more. Sequim and Sedro-Wooley have both been slashed by nearly 90%. The opening — and potentially only — bid for Sequim is a mere $1,500, and Sedro-Wooley, originally listed at $45,000, is now down to $5,000.  

All of the remaining 109 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 – and note that there has been a change in one of those important dates since our last report:

January 28, 2013 – 12:00 noon ET – Short-Form Application (FCC Form 175) filing window opens.

February 6, 2013 – prior to 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.

March 18, 2013 – 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.

April 23, 2013 – Auction Begins. This is a change from the initially-announced start date (i.e., March 26) that we reported in September. As we noted then – and as we advised the Commission in some formal comments – March 26 happens to fall in the middle of a number of religious holidays (first day of Passover, Tuesday of Holy Week), and also just before the start of the annual NAB convention. The postponement is intended to avoid conflicts with these.

At least a week before the April 23 start date, 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 94 should review the notice in detail.  While there’s still more than five 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 94 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, in keeping with tradition, 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 28, 2013.  (Look for an “Auction Tutorial” link on the FCC’s Auction 94 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 April 19, 2013, again to permit folks to dust off any cobwebs and be ready to jump right in when the bidding starts for real on April 23.