FCC's Wheeler: We Can't Give Broadcasters Blanket Info On Spectrum Value

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler says that the FCC will start meeting with broadcasters in individual markets to give them a sense of what their spectrum will be worth at auction, but that it cannot provide that info on a blanket basis.

Broadcasters have been looking for answers out of the FCC given that they have to make business decisions about whether to keep their spectrum and how and whether to share spectrum. The commission is expected to vote a spectrum auction item by its May meeting, and Wheeler appeared to fuel that speculation with a timetable for discussing the plan at the FCC and on the Hill starting next week.

During a Senate Financial Services Subcommittee hearing Thursday, Wheeler was asked by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) when broadcasters would be given some regulatory certainty about how much their spectrum will be worth in the auction. "There is a lot of focus on the nature of the auction," Moran said, "and how that is going to occur."

"What I think may be missing is whether there is going to be any spectrum to auction. You talked earlier about the business community needing certainty. When can a broadcasters begin to understand what their company's spectrum may be worth"

Moran pointed out that they have to enter into contracts for towers and employees and to plan their businesses. Moran said he was sure the question would come up when Wheeler addresses broadcasters at the NAB convention in Las Vegas in a couple of weeks.

Wheeler offered a timeline. He said next week he would start talking about the auction framework—"working through the options and narrowing it down"—with other commissioners, as well as sharing thoughts about how to structure the auction with members of Congress.

Then, said Wheeler, he will go out to NAB, but not with a speech that says "here are all the answers." After that, he said, he will start talking to broadcasters individually.

Wheeler pointed out that he had spent the last decade buying and selling companies—he was a venture capitalist. "I'm used to seeing a book [the financials of a deal]... I think it is incumbent upon us to meet with broadcasters and say 'here's a book, here's what it means in your particular circumstances. You make the decision.' This is a voluntary auction. But we are going to approach this in a businesslike manner that provides to the broadcasters the information they need to make an informed decision, and you can't do that on a blanket kind of basis. You have to sit down and say, 'well, in this community with these kinds of realities, these are the expectations.'"

Moran wished him luck.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.