Another way to free up frequencies

Sep 24, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Giving broadcasters additional incentive to clear channels 60 to 69 for wireless services auctions, the Federal Communications Commission last week agreed to allow stations operating in that band to use their digital channel assignments to offer analog operations at least until Dec. 31, 2005.
In a previous action, the FCC cleared the way for broadcasters to sell their rights to transmit on channels 60 to 69 to the winners of the wireless auctions.
The FCC has been trying to think up ways to encourage the nearly 100 broadcasters on the band to get off those frequencies since 1997, when Congress originally mandated that the channels be auctioned for wireless services.
Under the law, the FCC was supposed to auction the rights to the channels before the end of 2000.
But the agency has ducked the obligation in large part because the law also says broadcasters don’t actually have to surrender the channels until the switch to digital TV is complete. That’s something that is not expected to happen for years, and observers have warned that the auctions won’t be as lucrative for the federal government if they’re held before there’s a better guarantee that the broadcasters will turn the spectrum over at a certain date.
At deadline, the FCC had yet to reschedule the auctions.
Under the FCC’s incentive rulings, broadcasters can strike deals with wireless companies to abandon the channels sooner than they would otherwise have had to-and they’ll have a new channel on which to continue analog operations until a switch to digital TV becomes practical.
“The broadcasters are going to be in for a windfall,” said Bud Paxson, chairman of Paxson Communications, which owns 17 of the 99 analog stations operating on channels 59 to 69. (Mr. Paxson says Channel 59 will also need to be cleared to allow the use of Channel 60.)
Added Travis Larson, a spokesman for the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, “This action by the FCC adds some certainty to the clearing process.”
Mr. Paxson last week also proposed a plan under which the investment banking company of Allen & Co. would negotiate a package deal with auction bidders to compensate broadcasters and set deadlines for moving off the channels.
He said the concept at deadline had the support of up to 70 percent of the stations operating on the band.
“As a group, we need to work on the other 30 percent of the incumbents to educate them on the benefits and potential compensation and get them to join the spectrum clearing alliance,” Mr. Paxson said.
Under another provision in the FCC’s ruling last week, broadcasters can continue operating in analog on the digital channels after Dec. 31, 2005, until 70 percent of the TV households in their markets are capable of receiving DTV signals.