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Sources: FCC's Wheeler Offers Noncom TV Outreach

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler told representatives of noncommercial TV stations in a meeting Monday (June 22)that he would be willing to do some personal outreach to stations about the options for participating in the broadcast incentive auction while remaining in the businesses.

That is according to one of the broadcasters in the room--the meeting included representatives of noncommercial and commercial broadcasters, including low powers.

The meeting followed the FCC's rejection of petitions to reconsider parts of the auction framework. That included a request by CPB, PBS and the Association of Public Television Stations that the FCC make sure that a noncommercial channel be reserved in every market after the post auction station repack, whether or not the only noncom in a market decided to give up its spectrum in the auction.

An FCC source said that reserving the channel would unnecessarily complicate the auction and reduce flexibility, particularly given that there were the other options the chairman is apparently willing to pitch. Those include giving up spectrum but striking a sharing deal with another station, in which case the noncom half of the channel would be a noncommercial license, and the broadcaster would get the same payout as though they had given up the spectrum and exited the business, or giving up UHF spectrum to move to a VHF channel, which would leave them in the business, plus give them a payout, though less than if they were exiting altogether.

According to an ex parte filing about the Monday meeting from the LPTV Spectrum Rights Coalition's Mike Gravino, Wheeler " discussed with the representatives of the PBS network, and their affiliates, APTS, the need for further assistance to make sure that no community is left without a PBS affiliate if the local non-commercial or education station licensee sells [its spectrum] in the incentive auction. PBS mentioned that there are about 30 of these. The Chairman offered to contact the education station licensees to explain that...moving to [a VHF channel] would be better than selling the license in the auction."

"[T]he chairman discussed the possibility of contacting stations, but no commitments were made," said a noncommercial station source familiar with the meeting.

An FCC spokesperson had no immediate comment on the meeting.

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.