70 TV Stations Now Willing to Give Back Spectrum, Former Industry Exec Tells FCC

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By Paul Barbagallo

Preston Padden, executive director of a group calling itself the Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition, has told several Federal Communications Commission officials that there are now 70 TV stations in the country willing to give back spectrum for an FCC incentive auction.

In meetings with Gary Epstein, head of the FCC's Incentive Auction Task Force, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, and Alex Hoehn-Saric, an adviser to Rosenworcel, Padden said all 70 of the stations are “auction-eligible” stations located mainly in the country's largest markets.

During the meetings, Padden emphasized that “the commission cannot conduct a successful auction and achieve its goal of transferring at least 120 MHz of broadcast spectrum for mobile broadband use while also generating billions of dollars to fund a national broadband public safety network without attracting the participation of a sufficient number of broadcast stations,” Ari Meltzer, counsel for the coalition, wrote June 7 in an ex parte filing that detailed the meetings.

To date, Padden, a former FOX, ABC, and Disney executive, has declined to reveal the identity of the television stations that are members of his coalition or any station owners who would consider relinquishing their spectrum for the right price. Padden had earlier said the number of willing broadcasters was 40.

Hard Sell to Line Up Broadcasters

The rulemaking has been contentious because most broadcasters want to either retain their spectrum or maximize the opportunity to sell their spectrum at the highest possible rate.

Even at this early stage in the process, agency officials anticipate a return of between 60 and 80 megahertz from broadcasters, roughly half of the amount contemplated when the FCC released the National Broadband Plan in 2010.

Such a result undoubtedly would be disheartening to the president and to Democratic and Republican congressional leaders, who are counting on incentive auctions to generate as much as $15 billion in revenue, $7 billion of which would go toward building a new nationwide emergency communications network for public safety officials, the last unfulfilled recommendation of the 9/11 Commission.

Key to the FCC's success is broadcaster participation. In recent meetings with FCC officials, Padden has also advised the agency against “scoring” broadcast stations participating in the auction on the basis of population.

In sharp contrast to Padden's group, the National Association of Broadcasters, the largest trade group representing stations in the country, is advocating for TV stations that want to stay in the broadcasting business. To achieve the FCC's 120 MHz target, NAB estimates that between 300 and 400 TV stations that would need to be cleared.

For the filing, visit http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=7022422276.