The process of getting all the candidates lined up in the incentive auction starting gate has begun.

The incentive spectrum auction process just got a lot more real. The FCC’s Eligibility Public Notice has been released and the count-down toward the required certification of facilities has begun.

To date, for many of us the spectrum auction has tended to be more imagined than concrete. Sure, we’ve read a lot about it and we know it’ll almost certainly have a major impact on all of us. But we haven’t yet been required to do anything (other than, maybe, prepare some rulemaking comments or attend an FCC webinar or meeting).

But that has now changed, dramatically, with the release of the Eligibility Public Notice and the accompanying list of TV stations eligible for (a) protection in the post-auction repack and (b) relinquishment in the auction.

First things first. If you’re a full-power or Class A TV station, you should take a careful look at the eligibility list to see if you’re on it. If you are, get out your calendar and put a big red circle on July 9, 2015. That’s the deadline by which you must complete and file your Pre-Auction Technical Certification Form (a/k/a FCC Form 2100, Schedule 381).

Next, get yourself a copy of FCC Form 2100, Schedule 381 and fill it out, a separate form for each station. We have previously given our readers a recap of the form, so if you have any questions about it, you may want to look here to refresh your recollection. You will need to access the FCC’s various databases – CDBS, Licensing Management System, Antenna Registration System, and any other information on file with the FCC relative to your station – to make sure that the representations you make in the form are accurate. But the form asks for information that you can’t get from the FCC’s database, so you will need to work with (a) an engineer who knows your on-site equipment in detail and (b) your tower owner who knows when the last structural study was done and what it involved. Once you’ve completed the form(s), you get them filed through the FCC’s Licensing Management System – NOT the old CDBS application filing system.

If, in preparing the form, you find that there is a discrepancy between your station’s facilities and the corresponding information in your authorization and/or the related FCC databases, you should include with your form an exhibit providing the correct information.

If, on the other hand, you have to certify that you’ve been operating with facilities at variance from your authorization (and the FCC database info), you’ll have either to (a) get your facilities back into conformity with your authorization or (b) file for modification of your facilities and seek an STA to allow you to continue to operate with parameters at variance. But don’t count on getting those modified facilities protected in the repack: in order to get such protection, you had to have a license application to cover such modifications on file by May 29.

And if, on the other other hand, you find that your station is not on the list but you think it should be, all is not lost. You have until July 9 to file a “Petition for Eligible Entity Status” explaining why you think you’re eligible. The Bureau promises to hustle up a decision on such petitions and will alert each petition of the disposition of its petition “well in advance of the reverse auction”. Practice tip: If you do file such a petition, be sure to include in the caption (i.e., at the top of the first page) the licensee’s name of the licensee, and the station’s call sign, community of license (city and state), facility identification number and channel number, along with the file number of the authorization you believe should be eligible.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, this may not be the beginning of the end, but it sure feels like the end of something. From here on in, we’ll all be sailing in largely uncharted waters. It’s time to keep calm and carry on.