FCC digital dealing

Agency hopes offer will jumpstart TV transition

WASHINGTON– Hoping to light a fire under the stalled transition to digital TV, the Federal Communications Commission on Monday offered broadcasters using TV channels 60-69 some wiggle room as to how and when they give up their analog spectrum to the wireless industry.

The regulatory agency said that if a station owner bails out early, that broadcaster can keep a second analog station elsewhere on the spectrum up and running beyond the 2006 deadline.

Monday’s FCC ruling gives even further incentive to Paxson and other broadcasters willing to vacate that spectrum before the 2006 deadline to go all-digital.

Ruling was most immediately a victory for broadcaster Lowell “Bud” Paxson, who wants to cut lucrative deals with the wireless biz in exchange for vacating this chunk of spectrum early. Essentially, Paxson — chair of Paxson Communications — and other broadcasters would get a sort of squatter’s fee from wireless companies before the FCC officially auctions off the spectrum to wireless ventures.

There are about 142 affected stations.

“Acknowledging that there are strong public interest benefits favoring comprehensive band-clearing agreements, the FCC has modified its policies to provide certain additional flexibility to facilitate the development of voluntary band-clearing arrangements between incumbent broadcasters and new commercial wireless interests,” the FCC statement said.

Paxson, whose company owns 17 stations operating on channels 59 to 69, is the largest group operator of stations utilizing the 700 MHz spectrum. He announced Monday that he has agreed to retain the services of investment bank Allen & Co. and telco consultancy the Spectrum Exchange Group.

“Preliminarily, we have support from 65%-70% of the stations, and now we need to officially get them to join the Spectrum Clearing Alliance and Allen & Co.’s representation agreement,” said Paxson. “As a group we need to work on the other 30% of the incumbents to educate them on the benefits and potential compensation and get them to join the Spectrum Clearing Alliance.”

The Alliance intends to work closely with the FCC to establish an auction date as soon as possible.

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