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Editorial: Bowing Out, Taking Stock

The broadcast incentive auction is no longer on the horizon. It is approaching fast and picking up speed.

That became clear last week, when the Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition announced it was disbanding.

The National Association of Broadcasters has had to divide its focus, looking out for members that were not going to put spectrum in the auction and didn’t particularly want to have to go through a second DTV transition to accommodate broadcasters who did, as well as for members who were likely to participate.

EOBC was laser-focused on rules that would provide the highest bid prices and most accommodating environment for stations that wanted to give up spectrum if the price and terms were right.

Among the EOBC’s accomplishments were helping secure opening bid prices that will be more reflective of a station’s potential for reducing interference, getting more price info out of the FCC and more liberal channel sharing rules.

According to EOBC executive director Preston Paddon (as of Sept. 30 we guess that would be executive director “emeritus”), the vast majority of the 87 stations in the coalition will be putting spectrum in the auction, a clear sign that EOBC’s work paid off.

We hope wireless companies are as eager to hold up their end of the bargain now that elsewhere on the bowing- out front, Sprint has signaled it is not going to participate.

That was always a possibility given the carrier’s public statements about focusing on the spectrum it already had. But given all the wireless industry talk about a spectrum crisis, it was instructive to hear that Sprint thought it had enough spectrum not only for now but for the broadb-and-centric future that drove the FCC to launch the auction in the first place.

Some broadcasters were worried the absence of Sprint might depress prices in the forward auction, which is where the FCC is getting the money to pay for their spectrum. But an FCC official told B&C last week that the agency had factored in Sprint’s possible no-show and expected there to be plenty of auction action from other competitive carriers.

That was certainly the message from the head of the Competitive Carriers Association, who said last week he expected that in the absence of Sprint, smaller carriers would be even more incentivized to get a piece of that low-band spectrum enabling them to build out in rural areas for a lot less money.

Padden also said he thought there would be plenty of bidders and bucks, and that Sprint’s absence would have essentially no impact.

We hope so. We also encourage the FCC to wrap up issues like the treatment of low-power stations and translators in the post-auction repack, get the bidding structure public notice finalized and issued and put out the actual starting bid prices so that broadcasters will have the information they need to make a decision that will determine not only their financial futures, but what the broadcast medium as a whole will look like. If Sinclair and others have their way, that will include a new transmission standard that can make broadcasters an interactive player in the broadband future.

Stay tuned.