New group to navigate broadcasters through spectrum auction process

A group of broadcasters calling itself the “Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition” will help guide broadcasters through the upcoming auction process. The newly formed coalition, led by Preston Padden, a former ABC Network president and later an industry lobbyist, says it wants to ensure that those broadcasters interested in voluntarily participating in the FCC’s upcoming sale of TV broadcast spectrum — scheduled to start in 2014 — get their fair share of revenue and won’t get displaced if they don’t want to.

The group has the support of the NAB, an organization that in the past has advocated against participation by its member stations. None of the coalition members have been identified.

“The NAB will continue to engage our members, the FCC and others to develop an auction that allows volunteer broadcasters to be adequately compensated for leaving the business while holding harmless TV stations that remain on the air,” said Dennis Wharton, Executive Vice President of Communications. “If the devastation of Hurricane Sandy has demonstrated anything over the last two weeks, it's been the unique resiliency and reliability of our transmission architecture and the indispensable lifeline role played by local broadcasting in the fabric of American life.”

Even the FCC appears on board with what the coalition is trying to accomplish. Chairman Julius Genachowski oversaw a 5-0 vote in September that set the stage for public comment to begin in the auctioning off of broadcast TV spectrum for mobile broadband use. Those rules should be finalized next year, with the auction slated for sometime in 2014.

“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. “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.”

The commission is trying to acquire 300MHz of spectrum for mobile broadband by 2015 and is looking to incentivize broadcasters to give up 120MHz as part of that plan. To date it is not clear how many broadcasters are willing to part with their spectrum or if the FCC will achieve its 300MHz goal to support the National Broadband Plan outlined by President Obama three years ago.