Special Software Tools to Propel FM Auction

Behind the Scenes at the FCC's'Electronic Simultaneous Multiple Round' Event
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Behind the Scenes at the FCC's'Electronic Simultaneous Multiple Round' Event

Behind the Scenes at the FCC's'Electronic Simultaneous Multiple Round' Event

An article in the Aug. 1 Radio World examined the pending FCC auction of FM CPs from its historic, regulatory and political angles. This article examines its specific procedures and technological support.

The FCC Wireless Bureau describes Auction No. 37, which begins on Nov. 3, as an "electronic simultaneous multiple round auction."

That simply means everything will be put into play at exactly the same time - all 288 construction permits will go up simultaneously. There will be multiple discrete rounds of bidding during the auction, with each round lasting for a pre-determined length of time (most likely in the two-hour range to start, with shorter periods as rounds progress). A timer will be displayed to indicate time remaining.

The bidding process will use a Web-based system - with bidders connected directly into special software available on the Internet, or simply by good, old-fashioned telephony. Bids will be entered electronically by selecting from a system of click-boxes that designate specific monetary amounts.

"If you enter a wrong bid, you can remove it before that particular round is over by using the (auction) software," said Craig Bomberger, associate chief of the FCC's Auctions and Spectrum Access Division.

(click thumbnail)Redundant computer hardware-software infrastructures in Washington and Gettysburg, Pa. will provide the backbone of the FCC's Auction No. 37 of FM spectrum.
Bidders will be required to remain relatively busy during each round. Bomberger said there will be "activity requirements" in force, requiring participants to bid generally throughout the auction process.

According to an FCC seminar held for prospective bidders in July at commission headquarters, this required activity will be determined by taking into account a bidder's new bids placed in a round, and his or her standing high bids from prior rounds, as measured in special bidding units.

Much like chips in a casino, bidding units work in place of legal currency (i.e., Construction Permit FM042 for Bayfield, Colo., will have 10,000 bidding units). These units are used to measure both a bidder's activity and eligibility. Units are assigned to each CP in the auction and listed in Attachment A of the Procedures Public Notice (DA 04-1699) on the auction, available at the FCC Auctions Web site at http://wireless.fcc.gov/auctions/.

The number of bidding units assigned to each CP is constant and does not change as bids increase. A prospective bidder would need 10,000 bidding units of eligibility to bid for CP FM042, for example, regardless of the dollar amount of the bid itself.


All auction applicants must submit upfront payments in advance. (Differing amounts for each CP are listed in Attachment A of the Public Notice.)

Bomberger cautions that applicants do not have to submit an upfront payment for each CP they select on their applications. However, they must submit a payment sufficient to cover at least one of the CPs selected. (Applicants who may be "former defaulters" - who have previously defaulted on a payment to the FCC or were delinquent on any non-tax debt to the federal government - must pay 50 percent more in payments.) Upfront Payments, to be transacted via wire transfer, are due at the commission by 6 p.m. EDT on Friday, Sept. 24.

Bomberger said the entire auction ends after there is a round in which no new bids, withdrawals or proactive waivers have been submitted. (The FCC may enter automatic waivers on behalf of bidders, but such waivers do not keep the auction open.) While the bidding itself will be confidential during each round, once the round ends, results will be posted online as soon as possible. Therefore, all bidders can see where they stand as the auction proceeds.

Automated setup

The behind-the-scenes technical resources that will fuel the multi-faceted auction are considerable.

John Giuli, technical director for FCC Auctions, told Radio World the auction will employ an Automated Auction System, a custom Web-based N-tier system employing Web, application and Sybase database servers. (The "N" in "N-tier" refers to the number of tiers involved.)

"Bidders will interact with this system through the Internet, or by dial-in access or voice-bidding through the public telephone system," Giuli said. "A multi-link T1 bundle and dial-in access servers connect the Auctions Network directly to the Internet. The T1 interface is connected through routers, switches and firewalls to load-balanced Web servers running on UNIX."

All bona fide bidders will be identified for each round using authentication systems that require passwords. Giuli said the various servers deployed for the auction communicate with Sybase databases that run on SUN Enterprise 15K servers.

Various security devices will be used, including Intrusion Detection (IDS) and Host-Based Intrusion Detection (HIDS) systems, log-network monitoring and event analysis and correlation systems, and network packet and telephone recording devices.

"With built-in redundancy at dual sites in Washington and Gettysburg, Pa., we will be ready for Auction 37," Giuli said.

A mock auction will be held on Oct. 29 to allow prospective bidders to test-drive the auction software prior to the real event starting on Nov. 3.

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