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Station Coalition Warns FCC Against Lowballing Spectrum

TV stations willing to consider giving up spectrum for a
government payout in the incentive auctions are concerned that the FCC is
trying to manage the auction so as to reduce payments to broadcasters.

That's according to comments filed by the Expanding
Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition, a group of 40-plus stations, mostly
in major markets, represented by coalition executive director Preston Padden,
former head of the Association of Independent Television Stations and a top
exec at News Corp. and ABC/Disney. 

"[T]he participation of willing broadcasters is the
linchpin of a successful incentive auction," the coalition said. "As
such, the FCC's primary focus should be convincing broadcasters that their price
expectations are likely to be met in the reverse auction."

But according to Padden, who filed the comments,
"[t]hrough meetings and attendance at Commission related events, Coalition
members have received the impression that some FCC staff and some FCC consultants
are spending considerable time developing strategies to "manage" the
auction results to reduce payments to broadcasters. This is not the statutory
scheme and is not the way to attract broadcasters to the auction. It is a
prescription for a failed auction."

"Our main point is that it should be the market forces
of the auction, not the opinions of some FCC staff and consultants, that
determines the prices to be paid to broadcasters," Padden told B&C

Among the coalition's concerns would be limiting the
participation of the two largest wireless carriers. The FCC has a separate
proceeding open that could potentially do that by changing the local market
spectrum screen it uses to decide whether concentration of spectrum should
trigger additional review.

"Restricting forward auction participation, especially
by the largest providers -- Verizon Wireless and AT&T -- would create a
daisy-chain effect, reducing broadcaster expectations and participation, the
amount of spectrum transferred for mobile broadband use, auction proceeds, and
available funding for public safety and deficit reduction," said the

The coalition also wants the FCC to auction all the spectrum
reclaimed in the auction, including the guard bands. The FCC has been
considering allowing for unlicensed use in the guard bands, but the coalition
argues that "Siphoning off some of that spectrum (for which the FCC may
pay large sums) for unlicensed use will artificially distort demand and disrupt
the market-based mechanisms."

It also wants the FCC to reclaim at least 120 MHz. That was
the original target, but the FCC has backed off setting any kind of mandatory

The coalition members are not identified. The FCC has said
that comments can be filed anonymously since broadcasters understandably don't
want to publicized their willingness to sell. But Padden says there are more
than 40 members, all in major markets.

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.