Broadcaster Coalition Warns Against Scoring Stations as Part of ‘Incentive' Auction

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By Paul Barbagallo  

 

A group of television broadcasters has raised concern about the possibility of the Federal Communications Commission assigning scores to TV stations participating in the Federal Communications Commission's planned “incentive” auctions of spectrum.

Preston Padden, executive director of the group known as the Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition, met with high-ranking FCC officials on May 2-3 about this and other matters, saying the “specter of scoring based on some arbitrary factors” is “driving stations away from the auction.”

“During the meetings, the coalition representatives commended the FCC for indicating that it has abandoned the arbitrary and ill-advised scoring of broadcast stations participating in the auction on the basis of population,” Ari Meltzer, counsel for the coalition, wrote May 6 in an ex parte filing that detailed the meetings. “However, Mr. Padden observed that the FCC has offered no other objective basis to score TV stations willing to surrender their spectrum in the auction.”

As a result, many broadcasters see scoring as a possibility, and may decide not to participate, the group said.

First Incentive Auctions

The FCC is in the process of crafting rules for the first incentive auctions of spectrum, in which the agency will try to reclaim the airwaves now used for broadcast television and auction them off to wireless carriers, with a portion of the proceeds paid to the 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.

The Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition fears that if the FCC scores TV stations based on certain criteria, like population served, the end result may not only be a low participation, but potentially less money in return for their spectrum.

In sharp contrast, 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.

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.

The Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition claims there are 40 broadcasters ready to give back their spectrum if the price is right. However, those broadcasters have not yet identified themselves publicly.


The ex parte filing is available at http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=7022310156.