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FCC to clear wireless buyouts

The FCC is expected to approve a proposal Tuesday by Bud Paxson and other broadcasters that will allow them to negotiate early buyout deals with wireless companies expected to bid on channels 60-69.

The government's okay is predicted to bring a financial windfall to the station owners. The government originally planned to auction the frequencies in 2000 as part of the transition to digital TV but has repeatedly delayed the bidding until plans could be worked to get stations off the band quickly. Broadcasters are not obligated to leave the channels, located on the 700 MHz swath of spectrum, any sooner than 2006.

Paxson and most other owners of the 142 allotments on the band have proposed to give up their spots early in return for cash from the new entrants. Buyouts would leave the affected stations just one channel during the rest of the DTV transition. Other broadcasters would have two, one for traditional analog and one for digital.

Because Paxson and his allies would have only one signal, the FCC is expected to give them the right to delay the inauguration of their digital transmissions. Currently, all broadcasters must go digital in May 2002. It's hard to predict how much Paxson will gain from selling out to the wireless companies because of the slump in the telecom market, but some analysts have predicted the number could go as high as $1 billion. - Bill McConnell