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FCC Asked to Rethink TV Sharing Auction Rules

The Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition (EOBC) says it has been talking with broadcasters outside the coalition about the possibility of channel sharing, and says it has run across some problems with how the FCC set up the sharing system.

"The Commission appears to have inadvertently erected barriers that could drive many broadcasters away from the auction at a time when the FCC needs to be enlarging—not reducing—the pool of interested broadcasters," EOBC says in the petition, which, according to EOBC executive director Preston Padden, is not adversarial but was in fact invited by the commission.

Indeed, the petition goes out of its way to praise the openness and transparency of the process and the "amazing job" the commission has done of preparing for the historic auction, set for mid-2015.

EOBC says the rules should be changed so that parties to sharing agreements are free to negotiate for common contractual rights, should be able to enter into sharing agreements after the auction, should be allowed to determine the length of those agreements, and if a sharing station relinquishes its license, the shared spectrum should revert to the sharing partner(s), not the commission.

Currently, the rules prohibit common contractual rights like rights of first refusal; limit sharing arrangements to ones struck before broadcasters know "critical details about the auction," EOBC said; requires a host station to give up its spectrum in perpetuity; and in some cases allows the FCC to pick the channel sharing partner.

EOBC also says if those four are not changed, many broadcasters will sit out the auction.

"This petition is somewhat unique in that it is not adversarial," Padden said. "After the issuance of the auction Report and Order, some Coalition Members began discussions with other broadcasters regarding channel sharing.  Those discussions revealed practical problems with the Rules the Report and Order specified for channel sharing agreements - problems that the FCC could not have anticipated before actual sharing discussions had begun."

He says that after meeting with FCC staffers about the problem, they invited the petition so there would be a basis on the record to review it. "This filing is not a complaint, but rather a continuation of productive dialog," says Padden.

EOBC is a coalition of broadcasters who are interested in giving up spectrum in the auction for the right price.

"The Incentive Auction R&O does not provide the flexibility that broadcasters will need to relinquish some or all of their spectrum usage rights," says EOBC. "Given the important role that channel sharing will play toward the FCC’s ability to achieve its spectrum reallocation goals, the Commission should reconsider its channel sharing rules consistent with the foregoing to make channel sharing as attractive to broadcasters as possible."

The petition comes the same week that a pair of noncommercial L.A. stations said they were looking at sharing spectrum, prompting FCC chairman Tom Wheeler to comment: "It’s a compelling opportunity for broadcasters to continue their existing business on a shared channel, and take home a check for the spectrum they relinquish in the incentive auction. It is my hope that other broadcasters give it careful consideration as well.”

Wheeler has said sharing is part of the win-win-win proposition the incentive auction offers to broadcasters.