The Federal Communications Commission said on Friday that it would postpone until early 2016 a planned auction of airwaves now used by broadcast television stations for use by mobile phone companies.
The commission attributed the delay in part to a pending lawsuit filed by the National Association of Broadcasters, a trade group for the television industry, and to the need for more time to recruit television stations to participate.
The auction, previously set to begin in mid-2015, is likely to be the largest and most complicated sale of airwaves that the commission has undertaken. It involves a multistep process in which some broadcasters agree to give up their airwaves or move their signals to new spots on the electromagnetic spectrum in exchange for a portion of the proceeds of their sale.
Broadcast stations that do not participate in the auction could have their spot on the broadcast spectrum moved anyway, to help create contiguous blocks of airwaves for sale to mobile phone companies.
Most broadcast stations affiliated with the four major networks are not expected to participate in the auction, and the trade association said in its lawsuit challenging the sale that the initial rules laid out by the commission would cause some stations to lose some of their coverage area and viewers.
Last month, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where the case was filed, set out a schedule that calls for final briefs in late January. That means a decision in the case would not be expected until mid-2015, about the time Tom Wheeler, the F.C.C. chairman, had set for the auction to start.
Proceeds from the auction are expected to contribute heavily to the cost of a planned $7 billion nationwide public safety communications network.
In a post on the F.C.C. blog, Gary Epstein, the chairman of the commission’s Incentive Auction Task Force, said the agency was confident that it would prevail in court. But, he added, “given the reality of that schedule, the complexity of designing and implementing the auction, and the need for all auction participants to have certainty well in advance of the auction, we now anticipate accepting applications for the auction in the fall of 2015 and starting the auction in early 2016.”
Dennis Wharton, executive vice president for communications of the broadcasters’ association, said in a statement: “We reject suggestions that our narrowly focused lawsuit is cause for delay.”
“As N.A.B. has said repeatedly, it is more important to get the auction done right than right now,” Mr. Wharton added. “Given its complexity, there is good reason Congress gave the F.C.C. 10 years to complete the proceeding.”
Mr. Epstein wrote that the commission would vote by the end of the year to release for public comment a proposal of the auction’s methodologies. The agency also will vote “in the coming weeks” to release for comment a proposal to set aside one vacant television channel in each market for use by unlicensed devices.
In a separate move, the F.C.C. on Friday said it would fine two companies a combined $10 million for leaving personal data unprotected.
The companies, Terracom and YourTel America, collected the data from consumers to determine their eligibility for a program that offers subsidized cellphone service to low-income Americans. The F.C.C. said the companies stored the Social Security numbers, names, addresses, driver’s license data and other information of customers on unprotected Internet servers “that anyone in the world could access.”
Lax security practices affected up to 300,000 customers of the low-income phone program, known as Lifeline, the commission said, even though the companies claimed to have “technology and security features” to safeguard the privacy of consumers.
The action is the first data security case for the commission and the largest privacy action in its history.
In a statement, Terracom said it had “worked with our vendors to increase data security technology and procedures and completed multiple security audits to prevent further breaches from taking place.”