FCC Prospects for Auction of TV Spectrum Improving

Coalition of willing sellers is growing

The Federal Communications Commission should write Preston Padden a check for convincing TV broadcasters to consider voluntarily relinquishing spectrum that can be auctioned off for wireless services. Until the former network TV exec formed his coalition of willing TV sellers last November, the prospects for the auction were looking bleak because it was unclear if any TV stations were willing to exit the business.

Without enough spectrum, the FCC wouldn't be able to reallocate more for wireless services, let alone fund the much-needed public safety network and contribute a few billion to the U.S. Treasury.

Even more promising for the FCC auction's success, Padden said the 39 stations in his Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition are in the top 12 largest TV markets, exactly where wireless spectrum is needed the most to meet the demands of voracious mobile consumers.

"We believe there will be enough broadcasters to meet the goal of the FCC's national broadband plan," Padden said. "We're not yet there, but we're getting close."

Not all the stations that are contemplating cashing out are in Padden's coalition. Padden said he knew of public stations looking to sell.

Padden had a few suggestions for how the FCC could sweeten the deal to lure even more broadcasters in comments filed with the FCC late Wednesday. Naturally, it comes down to money. "We told the FCC that when they think about what they're going to pay these willing stations, they should think about the value of the spectrum for the wireless, not the broadcasting business," Padden said.

That's because most of the stations willing to sell are not the affiliates associated with ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox. "They're not in the thick of competitive ad sales in the market, so I don't think advertisers will see any difference," Padden said.

The FCC's current goal is to hold the auctions next year. Right now, the agency is soliciting comments about the auction process, which, in Washington, can be just as contentious as the issue itself.