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Wharton: Broadcasters Could Work With FCC on Voluntary Spectrum Reclamation

Broadcasters would be willing to work with the FCC if its spectrum reclamation proposal is voluntary, but that is an important "if." 

That was the word from Dennis
Wharton, spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, who said
Tuesday (March 16) that he thought some broadcasters would be willing to give
up some of their spectrum if the FCC's plan is "truly voluntary."

The broadband plan, being officially unveiled in Washington Tuesday,
seeks 120 MHz from broadcasters, or over a third of their remaining allocation,
by 2015.

"We want to be conciliatory because we think this is an
important public policy issue," Wharton said on NPR's Diane Rehm Show Tuesday.

"We plan to work with the FCC and Congress to help them solve the problem," he said.  "Broadcasting and braodband are not mutually exclusive ideas," he added.  His concern is that the FCC will first take away six channels on an involuntary basis.

"Sometimes in Washington, the word 'voluntary' has different connotations. A lot of these broadcasters in big cities are offering niche programming services like foreign language stations and religious stations," Wharton said. "But, sure, if it's truly voluntary, I don't think we'll have a problem. But some of the proposals that have come out in the last day or so -- after we were told this was going to be voluntary -- indicate that it's not truly voluntary."

"There are proposals put forward in some of the trade publications suggesting that six channels will be taken away from broadcasters on an involuntary basis. We're going to study that."

The FCC plan talks about finding 36 MHz of spectrum through re-packing, which would essentially be fitting the current licensees into six channels less of space. Unless broadcasters have a say in whether or not that happens, at least part of the spectrum-reclamation process would not be voluntary.