The FCC is trying to make good on its promise to let auction participants know what’s in store for them on the auction application front (and the reimbursement front, too – but that’s for a later post). Now it’s up to broadcasters to take advantage of what the FCC has given them. 

Blog.form 177 lessonAs the Broadcast Incentive auction continues its unstoppable advance, the Commission has begun to address the nitty-gritty practical steps that folks affected by the auction – whether auction participants or broadcasters who will be relocated as a result of the auction – will have to be taking. Most notably, the FCC has released: (1) an extensive set of instructions for Form 177, which is the form that broadcasters will have to file if they intend to participate in the Reverse Auction component of the process; (2) an online tutorial with additional Form 177 guidance; and (3) Form 2100, Schedule 399, which broadcasters seeking reimbursement of relocation costs will have to file if they want to tap into the cash the government will be doling out after the auction.

Attention, TV licensees: this is all required reading for anyone who wants to be properly prepared for the auction and its aftermath. We’ll walk you through the high points on Form 177 now; check back here for a follow-up on Schedule 399.

As we all know by now, Form 177 is the first step in Reverse Auction participation. Any eligible TV licensee planning on wielding a bidding paddle will have to file a Form 177 before January 12, 2016. The form itself still hasn’t been officially released by the Commission, but we have tracked down a copy of the screens that will comprise the application. We posted a link to those slides, with the caveat that they had not yet been approved by the Office of Management and Budget. Update: the slides have now been given OMB’s blessing (as of November 19, the date by which the FCC had asked OMB to act).

But those slides don’t include any specific instructions. No problem – the Commission has separately released a set of detailed instructions … but without the accompanying form. This seems counterintuitive: wouldn’t it make more sense to provide instructions and application as a package, so that they could be reviewed in tandem? You bet – and that’s where we in the CommLawBlog bunker come in. We have prepared a mash-up of the Form 177 slides and the later-released instructions and we have inserted links in the instructions to the applicable slides. So while you review the instructions, you can easily click back and forth to the form itself to get a solid idea of what the instructions are talking about.

We strongly recommend that any would-be Reverse Auction participant take the time to get very familiar with both the instructions and the form well in advance of the January 12 filing deadline. It will be essential that the form be completed fully and properly. With millions, tens of millions, or even hundreds of millions of dollars on the line, common sense dictates that participants should be maximally careful with their Form 177’s – and such caution naturally entails getting up close and personal with the form (and its instructions) as soon as possible.

To help with that, the Commission has also posted a Form 177 tutorial on its website. This, too, is a must-view. It’ll take you about 63 minutes just to review the whole shebang once through, but you’ll probably want to do more than that. The show is set up for repeated viewings: you can re-review each separate screen as often as you want; you can search the whole tutorial for specific terms; you can choose to listen to the audio explanation of each slide or you can follow along with the script of that explanation; you can navigate through the slides as you wish. It’s user-friendly. (The only arguable downside: the regrettably grating monotone of the audio voice gets old pretty fast. It’s sort of like Sister Mary Elephant, without the funny parts. But given the material the narrator was given to work with, she deserves kudos for making it all the way through.)

So how to process this veritable cornucopia of useful information? We all have different learning styles, of course, but it might make sense to go through the instructions and slides first, so that you have a detailed familiarity with the form, the questions asked and the FCC’s expectations with respect to each of those questions. Then, armed with that knowledge, sit down with the tutorial, making sure that the understanding you have gained from your review of the form/instructions matches up with the tutorial’s directions.

If, after all that, you still have questions, be sure to sit in on the Reverse Auction workshop the FCC will be presenting on December 8. And if you still have questions, you can check with your counsel or you can reach out to the FCC’s auction staff directly – the Commission encourages such queries, and has repeatedly provided contact information for its auction staff. (Example: Slide 29 of the tutorial provides direct-dial numbers of staffers.)

So Reverse Auction participants now have a homework project for the Thanksgiving break. (You weren’t planning on lollygagging over the holiday, were you?) Review the extensive information the FCC has provided and get familiar – very familiar – with it. It might even be a good idea to use the available slides to mock up your own application; that might help avoid any unpleasant surprises once you start to complete the form for real. There will be one, and only one, pass/fail test on the material, and that will occur when the Reverse Auction window opens and closes.