If you picked “mid-2015” in your office pool for the date the FCC’s incentive spectrum auction would be held, we’ve got some bad news for you. While that was probably a pretty good bet up to now (since Commission officials have tenaciously stuck with the “mid-2015” date for some time), it’s not looking so good anymore. According to an item just posted on the FCC’s blog, the current target date is “early 2016”.
Gary Epstein, Chair of the Commission’s Spectrum Auction Task Force, alluding to “undeniable impediments” in the auction’s path, has this to say:
As Chairman Wheeler indicated several weeks ago, the court challenges to the auction rules by some broadcasters have introduced uncertainty. Earlier this week, the court issued a briefing schedule in which the final briefs are not due until late January 2015. Oral arguments will follow at a later date yet to be determined, with a decision not likely until mid-2015. We are confident we will prevail in court, but given the reality of that schedule, the complexity of designing and implementing the auction, and the need for all auction participants to have certainty well in advance of the auction, we now anticipate accepting applications for the auction in the fall of 2015 and starting the auction in early 2016. Despite this brief delay, we remain focused on the path to successfully implementing the incentive auction. [Emphasis added]
With briefing wrapping up very late in January, the “court challenges” mentioned – one from the NAB, the other from Sinclair – probably won’t be argued until mid- to late spring, 2015. In our experience, the D.C. Circuit usually takes at least two-three months following oral argument to crank out a decision on relatively easy cases. More complex cases can take significantly longer. (Extreme example: One of my colleagues once had to wait more than three years for a decision following oral argument.)
On a scale of one to ten – where one is a total no-brainer and ten is a case so complicated that it makes your eyes bleed – the spectrum auction appeal will probably be close to 11. So if the Commission is planning on holding off on the auctions until the Court has ruled – an approach implicit in Epstein’s statement – the “early 2016” estimate may still be subject to slippage. (Of course, the Commission is not necessarily obliged to wait for the Court’s decision, but that would impair the crucial “certainty” element.)
In any event, you’re now probably safe to lock in that summer rental for June-July, 2015 without having to worry about ditching it for the auction. Check back here for updates.