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FCC clears slower digital transitions

The FCC Monday approved a plan that will allow Paxson Communications and other broadcasters with TV stations and allotments on channels 60 through 69 to delay their transition to digital if they give their right to broadcast on that part of the spectrum band.

The move is intended to make sure viewers continue to receive conventional analog television if the broadcasters turn one of the two channels they currently control over to wireless companies that covet the spectrum. Wireless companies previously had been given FCC approval to negotiate early buyouts for Paxson and other broadcasters with frequencies located on the 700 MHz spectrum band.

FCC officials say the buyouts are necessary to speed the introduction of new "third generation" mobile Internet services because broadcasters aren't obligated to relinquish spectrum any sooner than 2006. The government plans to auction the 700 MHz, perhaps sometime next year, and many officials worried about uncertain over wireless company's ability to utilize the spectrum quickly would diminish the government's revenue from the bidding.

The government's decision is expected to bring a financial windfall to the holders of the 142 channels and allotments on the band. It's hard to predict how much compensation they will receive but some analysts predict the Paxson's 18 channels on that part of the dial could garner hundreds of millions or even a billion dollars.
- Bill McConnell