FCC Lifts Quiet Period For Broadcasters
With the incentive auction winding down, the FCC on Monday lifted the so-called quiet period enabling broadcasters who participated in the incentive auction to once again talk freely among themselves and negotiate freely to buy or sell their stations.
The action "will serve the public interest in a rapid, non-disruptive post-auction transition by enabling broadcasters and related parties to prepare by communicating post-auction channel assignment information without risk of violating FCC rules," the FCC said in a public notice.
Broadcasters are free to negotiate assignments or transfers of broadcast licenses or other transactions involving a transfer of control of a licensee that has been involved in the reverse auction," the notice says.
The quiet period is still in effect for wireless carriers bidding for spectrum in the forward auction.
"Broadcasters have asked for this waiver in order to make it easier for television stations to engage in planning and coordination for the post-auction transition," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement.
Starting in January of 2016, participating broadcasters were prohibited from all communications that might "directly or indirectly communicate" their bids or bidding strategies.
The FCC imposed the gag order to prevent broadcasters from colluding before or during the reverse auction bidding in a way that would have inflate prices the FCC and ultimately wireless carriers would have to pay for broadcast spectrum.
But in today's notice the FCC says the prohibition is unnecessary since the reverse auction is closed. "[C]ommunications between broadcasters regarding reverse auction bidding and results can have no effect on bidding in the reverse auction. "
Although the FCC tried to limit the scope of the prohibited communications with an evolving set of exceptions. For instance, the FCC said the band did not necessarily include negotiations about station trading. However, the agency also cautioned that such talk could "create a risk of a violation."
An analysis by Wells Fargo’s Marci Ryvicker said that “while broadcasters are free to discuss the results, we do NOT anticipate a list of ‘winners’ to be provided by the FCC at this time. We had once thought that there might be an announcement providing a formal list of reverse auction ‘winners.’ It doesn't sound like this is happening on the reverse side (this contrasts with forward auction license winners — which we expect to be disclosed as in prior auctions); although we imagine that each broadcaster might decide to publicly disclose what it has ‘won’ at some point in the near future.
“The most significant takeaway to us is that broadcasters can engage in M&A. The notice specifically states that broadcasters can comfortably engage in discussions over potential transactions and submit merger filings with the FCC. While license transfers might not take place until after the auction is over, the M&A process can at least start for those who are interested,” Ryvicker added.
NAB EVP of Communications Dennis Wharton said: "With the TV spectrum auction nearing completion, it is perfectly appropriate to lift some of the so-called 'quiet rules' that barred discussions among broadcasters prior to and during the auction. NAB supports today's common sense FCC action and looks forward to completing this auction and repacking with minimal disruption to our tens of millions of viewers."
And Preston Padden, who represented OTA Broadcasting, one of the auction participants, remarked: ""Kudos to the FCC staff on being responsive to broadcaster comments and waiving the Quiet Period regarding the reverse auction. This will be a huge help as broadcasters plan for the transition."