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Fourth FCC delay in wireless auction

The FCC for the fourth time delayed auction of spectrum now used for TV channels 60-69.

Verizon Wireless requested the delay, arguing that bidders will have a difficult time assessing the value until they know how much it will cost them to remove broadcasters from the frequencies. Also, the government is trying to identify other spectrum also suitable for "third generation" uses like mobile Internet that the potential bidders for the spectrum, located on the 700 MHz band, are planning.

The bidding was rescheduled from March 6 to Sept. 12. The auction was originally slated to be held May 10, 2000 and has been repeatedly postponed at wireless companies' urging.

This time almost a dozen wireless industry companies backed Verizon's request, while only two broadcast companies argued against, Paxson Communications and Shop At Home. Most disappointed by the delay is Paxson, which owns 18 of the 138 stations on the band and stands to win high-priced early buyout deals from the spectrum winners. TV stations on the band now aren't obligated to leave the spectrum until the digital TV transition is complete, 2006 at the earliest.

Paxson argues that the auction should be held as soon as possible so TV stations can use their early buyout money to fund the DTV change over.

Despite yesterday's delay, FCC for the most part has stood behind the broadcasters' ability to negotiate the best buyout deals possible. Last week regulators upheld broadcasters' rights to negotiate lucrative buyout deals without threat of being forced off the band early.

Gloria Tristani, overriding her opposition to the previous delay, provided the swing vote in yesterday's 3-1 decision. She opposed delaying the auction beyond the original Sept. 30, 2000 deadline set by Congress, Tristani explained yesterday, but the latest delay is made necessary by uncertainty created by the FCC's new rules and the recent closing of a separate auction for wireless spectrum. - Bill McConnell