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Wheeler to Propose Allowing Post-Auction Sharing Deals

Look for FCC chairman Tom Wheeler to tell broadcasters in Las Vegas Wednesday that the FCC will loosen channel-sharing rules for TV stations in the post incentive-auction repack as a way to make it easier for sharing arrangements after the auction. The FCC will likely take other steps to address channel-sharing concerns raised by broadcasters.

An FCC spokesperson would not comment on whether that was the case, but the NAB Show in Las Vegas, where Wheeler is delivering a speech April 15, would be an appropriate venue to give his audience what would be good news for those eyeing channel sharing as a way to get an FCC payout and still remain in the broadcasting business.

Prominent National Association of Broadcasters members Fox, Ion, Tribune and Univision have all signaled that they are interested in participating in the auction and staying in the business at the right price and under the right rules. And in his opening speech to the convention Monday, NAB president Gordon Smith conceded that given the $45 billion ponied up by wireless companies for AWS-3 spectrum, "broadcasters have begun to look more seriously at the possibility of participating in the upcoming incentive auction," which in the case of sharing means "doing more with less."

But the Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition (EOBC) has been the most active on the channel-sharing policy front, petitioning the FCC to reconsider its decision not to require broadcasters to make sharing arrangements before they participate in the auction. "Requiring broadcasters to enter into CSAs before the auction threatens to limit the desirability and usefulness of the channel sharing option," EOBC has told the FCC. The FCC has signaled it needed to know about sharing arrangements beforehand so it could evaluate bids from channel sharers.

While the FCC is discounting the payouts to stations that move from a VHF to a UHF channel, it is not cutting the price to channel sharers, who will be giving up 6 MHz channels, the same as stations getting out of the business, the difference being sharers will share the payout with stations with which they will share.

EOBC also has said the FCC staff seemed receptive to changes that would make sharing a more viable option.

The coalition filed a petition last fall formally asking for a series of modifications to the FCC's channel sharing proposal.  In addition to allowing for sharing deals post-auction, those include allowing broadcasters to determine the length of the agreements and allowing the spectrum rights to revert to the sharing partner if a station relinquishes its license.

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.