After teasing that such relief was coming, the FCC has confirmed a partial waiver of the limitations on communications for reverse auction participants. In other words, broadcasters who participated in the auction, regardless of whether they were successful bidders or will remain on the air, are now free to communicate with all parties about their status.
This relief comes at a critical time when the post-auction repack transition is about to get underway. Stations are now free to discuss future plans for repacking, as well as enter negotiations for sales, acquisitions and channel shares, without threat of violating the FCC’s anti-collusion rules. The one caveat to keep in mind: forward auction participants are still forbidden from divulging their bids or bidding strategies, so broadcasters should not call up the local wireless carrier and ask (directly or indirectly) if they are bidding in the market.
The FCC also announced that it is mailing to broadcasters this week confidential letters to apprise stations that are subject to repacking, or elected to move to a VHF or lower-VHF channel, of their new channel assignments, technical parameters and the transition phase to which they will be assigned. This is being done in confidence as the official determination of channel reassignments will not be final until the Incentive Auction is complete, which will be signaled only by the release of the Auction Close and Channel Reassignment Public Notice. That notice is not expected for at least 6 weeks.
The Public Notice also provided some additional guidance for stations wondering how station sales and acquisitions will be processed while the auction is still technically pending. The Commission advises that stations may enter into agreements and file applications seeking consent to assignment, but cautioned that transactions would not be permitted to close until after the official end of the auction.
Finally, the Public Notice also reminded broadcast licensees of changes to the Commission Registration System (CORES) which is used to assign FCC Registration Numbers (FRNs). FRNs are required to do business with the FCC. These changes will require all licensees to create a new CORES log-in and password, which they can then associate with their existing FRNs.