Major Broadcast Groups Push 126 MHz Auction Target

Some major broadcasters are telling the FCC that they will need the commission to set a spectrum-clearing target before the incentive auction in order to better decide whether or not to participate.

According to an ex parte filing with the FCC, representatives of Fox, Ion, Tribune and Univision met with FCC officials last week to make the point that if the FCC wants to maximize broadcasters participation in the auction—it does—it should set a target of 126 MHz (on the high end of the FCC's estimation of what it could clear) and do so before the deadline for applications for the auction, which would mean by the end of this year—the auction is targeted for early 2016.

The more spectrum the FCC tries to get, the more money it will have to pay broadcasters to get it. The groups collectively represent stations that amount to more than 5 billion MHz pops of broadcast spectrum (the FCC values spectrum using the "per pop" measure, a calculation based on the population reached and value of the spectrum), including in markets where wireless demand is high.

Those are the same groups, all members of the National Association of Broadcasters, who signaled earlier this year that they would be willing to participate in the auction at the right price and under the right conditions—including that 126 MHz target, though they also signaled they would be looking to share channels and stay in the business.

In fact, among the other topics of conversation in the meetings were various hypothetical sharing scenarios and how they would work under the FCC's proposed framework. The broadcasters did not say what those hypotheticals were.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has told broadcasters that the FCC plans to allow stations to strike sharing arrangements after the auction, rather than require them to be arranged beforehand, as originally proposed.

The FCC has signaled that it will not allow sharing arrangements that would violate its media ownership rules, though it has said it would grandfather station owners who did not participate in the auction if, because of the auction, their combos were suddenly in violation of local ownership caps. An example would be a market where a duopoly was within the rules because there were eight independent voices, but where a station giving up spectrum to the auction went off the air, leaving only seven.

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.