Why Your Local Station May Not Be Around in a Few Months

By Kevin Eck 

The upcoming spectrum auction promises to raise billions of dollars for the federal government, free up spectrum for wireless companies and change the face of local broadcast TV.

Right now, only the FCC and the station groups themselves know who is going to sell of airwaves in the auction, so the real cost to viewers will only be revealed when it’s too late, when the auction is over and the spectrum is repurposed.

The Washington Post reports that stations selling off spectrum will have to change channels or go dark.


We don’t yet know how many stations have applied, or in which markets — that’s information that in some cases could change how other TV stations behave. For instance, if I’m a station owner in San Francisco thinking about selling, that could change the business plans for my rivals in the region. And tipping my hand that way would be bad for me. Just because a network like NBC says it plans to sell off TV spectrum in some markets doesn’t mean all of its stations will be doing so. Nor does signing up mean the stations will ultimately go through with the sale — participating stations have until late March to pull out of the auction.

That’s why the FCC is leaning against releasing any data about the applicants. But some at the agency, such as Democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, want at least some information disclosed in order to give the public an idea of how big a deal this auction will be.

“What we’ll be able to see from that,” said Rosenworcel at the Consumer Electronics Show this month, “is that there’s a lot of interest in this auction and this interest is the first step in having a successful auction.”

Interest levels in the auction really do matter, because the more TV stations give up their spectrum, the more spectrum will be available for other companies to buy up and use. Yes, the auction is actually split into two parts, and this next bit is the whole reason the event exists: To put the TV spectrum into the hands of other companies.