Wheeler Urges Stations To Sell Spectrum
Commercial and public broadcasters alike should consider cashing in their existing channels during the FCC’s upcoming incentive auction — then continuing operations through channel-sharing arrangements with other broadcasters, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler told an audience at Ohio State University Monday.
“That to me seems to be a pretty good deal,” said Wheeler during a question and answer session after delivering what he billed as the “first policy address” of his FCC chairmanship.
Wheeler said the sharing deals are particularly sweet for broadcasters because FCC must-carry rules would ensure that the broadcasters’ TV transmissions continue reaching consumer homes through cable-system carriage in their markets.
Wheeler said the channel-sharing deals would give “forever cash-starved” public broadcasters a “pot full of cash” that they could use as an endowment to keep their noncommercial operations going while using spectrum more efficiently.
“It may be just a great godsend to the PBS business,” Wheeler said. He also said he believed that TV broadcasters “serve a very important public interest. It’s the place you go in a time of emergency.”
But the new chairman also said there has been a “skyrocketing” demand for spectrum, and that a lack of spectrum is constraining the nation’s economic growth.
“So we have to ask ourselves the question: is there a more efficient use for the spectrum?”
Wheeler said the auction is a way to let the market figure out what the “highest and best” use for the spectrum is. “If past auctions are any measure, this is worth tens of billions of dollars,” he said.
Wheeler said the incentive auction has been his “No. 1 issue” since stepping in as the agency’s new chairman on Nov. 4. But he also said he didn’t want to be “rushed into” announcing a schedule for the auction.
“We want to make sure that the software that is going to run this incredibly complex auction ... is up to the task,” Wheeler said. “We will be able to announce a schedule in the not too distant future.”
At one point during his speech, some observers thought the chairman suggested that he supported the concept of limiting the ability of AT&T and Verizon to bid in the incentive auction in the interests of enhancing the ability of other companies to compete in the wireless business.
Limiting bidders could severely reduce auction revenues and broadcaster participation, according to the Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition — a group representing stations interested in participating in the auctions.
“Whatever the perceived benefits of bidding restrictions, those benefits must be weighed against the very real danger of inadequate revenue to buy the spectrum necessary for a successful auction," said Preston Padden, the coalition’s executive director, in response.
Wheeler said that one of the reasons he decided to give his first policy address at OSU was that he’s an alum: “I’m a proud Buckeye.”