Former TV Exec Forms Coalition for TV Spectrum Auction

But who is selling remains a mystery

Preston Padden, a former Fox, ABC and Disney exec, formed a coalition to represent TV broadcasters that will, if the price is right, relinquish their spectrum to the Federal Communications Commission for the yet-to-be designed-or-scheduled wireless spectrum auction.

The purpose of the Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition, Padden said in a statement, is to make sure the FCC has the "the rules and procedures in place to maximize the auction's chance to succeed. The FCC has only one shot to get it right."

Padden declined to name the broadcasters forming the coalition, citing the confidentiality requirements of the FCC and the law that made the auctions possible. So it's hard to gauge just how many broadcasters he represents. Padden also seemed to be pitching for more broadcasters to join the new coalition.

“I have spent the bulk of my career as a broadcaster. It is important to me that the coalition fully support those broadcasters that wish to remain in that great and noble business. We hope that by providing an effective vehicle for those broadcasters that choose another path, the FCC’s auction can strengthen the nation’s broadcast and wireless future,” said Padden, a senior fellow at the University of Colorado's Silicon Flatirons Center.

The FCC is in the process of designing how to conduct the world's most complex spectrum auctions to free up more wireless spectrum for mobile services. But its ultimate success has always depended on how many TV broadcasters are willing to give up their spectrum. That depends on what kind of deal the stations can get. Comments on the FCC's proposal for the auction design are due at the end of the month.

More than a few in Washington are skeptical that the auction will result in as much spectrum as originally planned, including FCC commissioner Robert McDowell. "I've not had very many broadcasters approach me and say they want to give up spectrum in the major markets where it's needed most. New York City? Probably not."

The National Association of Broadcasters, which fought hard to make sure the auctions were voluntary, was caught off guard by Padden's coalition. In a tepid statement, the NAB's evp Dennis Wharton stated the obvious. "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," Wharton said.

While no one has heard any rallying cry from broadcasters to exit the business, broadcasters are worried that if not enough come forward to relinquish spectrum, the government could be back for more later. "There's a benefit to some broadcasters giving up their spectrum," one broadcast lobbyist said. 

Trying to whip up as much broadcaster participation in the auctions as possible, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement that he welcomed the new coalition. "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," Genachowski said.