FCC Sets Opening Bid Prices for Stations in Airwaves Auction

The FCC has released a list of opening bid prices for thousands of TV stations as it prepares for a voluntary spectrum auction next year to free up airwaves for wireless use.

The opening bid prices are topped by $900 million for a New York station — WCBS-TV in New York — to just over $1.2 million for a station in a tiny market in Glendive, Montana.

Network affiliates in major markets are not expected to give up their spectrum, but some station groups have expressed interest in submitting some of their airwaves.

Because it is a reverse auction, the opening bid price is the maximum that stations will receive, as the amounts depend on how many outlets choose to sell. The auction will take place over several months, using a complex formula in which prices fall after each round. Wireless carriers would then bid on the repurposed spectrum.

Stations also could choose to move to other parts of the spectrum — for instance, from UHF to VHF, but the opening bid prices are lower for that option.

The auction is scheduled to begin March 29. Stations have until Dec. 18 to decide if they are interested in selling their spectrum to the FCC, which will then in turn auction it off to wireless carriers.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler called the release of bid prices a “watershed moment.”

“For all practical purposes, we’ve fired the starting gun,” he said.

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