Broadcasters form coalition to support FCC's incentive spectrum auctions

A group of broadcasters interested in participating in the FCC's incentive auctions of TV broadcast spectrum formed a coalition to push for a successful set of auctions, which are scheduled to start in 2014.

The group, called the "Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition," is being led by Preston Padden, a former Disney and News Corp. lobbyist who is now an adjunct professor at University of Colorado Law School in Boulder, Colo. Padden retired from Disney in 2009.

"This coalition's sole focus is to advocate for the success of the voluntary incentive auction of broadcast spectrum," Padden told Broadcasting & Cable. "The FCC has only one shot to get it right. The coalition is dedicated to ensuring we have the rules and procedures in place to maximize the auction's chance to succeed."

Padden said the group is not commenting on its membership. "The auction statute makes it a crime to disclose the identity of participating stations," he said, according to TV Technology. Padden told the National Journal that coalition members include TV stations that are willing to take part in the auctions if the FCC includes the right incentives, which they did not specify. He said the group is complementary to the National Association of Broadcasters.

The FCC voted in late September to begin setting rules that will govern voluntary incentive auctions of broadcast TV spectrum for mobile broadband use. The commission voted 5-0 to begin the march toward the auctions and opened the proposed rules for public comment. The final rules are expected in 2013.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski praised the group's formation. "Incentive auctions will offer significant opportunities for broadcasters--both those that will take advantage of a once in a lifetime financial opportunity, and those that will choose to continue to be a part of a healthy and diverse broadcast marketplace," he said, according to Broadcasting & Cable. "I welcome the participation of the new Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition in our rulemaking process as the commission engages all stakeholders in a manner that is open, transparent and data-driven."

A major question for the auctions though is how many broadcasters will participate. A major piece of the FCC's goal of freeing up 300 MHz of spectrum for mobile broadband by 2015 is the 120 MHz the FCC expects to get from the incentive auctions. However, there is no guarantee that the FCC will get that much from broadcasters.

Under the FCC's proposed rules, broadcasters will submit bids to relinquish their 6 MHz pieces of spectrum in a reverse auction where the FCC will pay them. The FCC's band plan for the broadcast spectrum carriers would use calls for 5 MHz blocks. The process is voluntary for broadcasters, but many worry that broadcasters might not give up their spectrum based to their previous resistance to the auctions.

After broadcasters give up their spectrum, it will be "repacked" so that broadcasters that do not give up their spectrum can stay on the air. Then the FCC will conduct a traditional "forward" auction in which wireless carriers will bid for the freed spectrum. 

The FCC anticipates that there will be 6 MHz guardbands to separate spectrum blocks used by carriers, and that the "white space" between the blocks will be open for unlicensed use.

For more:
- see this National Journal article
- see this LA Times article
- see this Broadcasting & Cable article
- see this separate Broadcasting & Cable article
- see this TV Technology article

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