FCC Media Bureau to Broadcasters: Help Us Structure Spectrum Auctions

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Federal Communications Commission Media Bureau chief Bill Lake suggested to broadcasters Wednesday that the agency needs to look at taking spectrum back from broadcasters that are not capitalizing on the digital "dividend" to operate more efficiently.

In a speech, a copy of which was obtained by Multichannel News, to the Media Institute in Washington, Lake said that "some broadcasters are making good use of this spectrum dividend; others are not. This means it is inevitable that, as we look for sources of spectrum, one place we need to look is broadcast spectrum that is not being efficiently used."

But he said that while it "may be tempting to be wistful about the way things were...this is your chance to be part of the solution by working creatively with us."

The FCC is planning to reclaim as much as 120 MHz of broadcast spectrum, and launched its effort to do so at its last monthly meeting Nov. 30. It proposed rules to reclassify broadcast spectrum so that wireless broadband is also entitled to use it, allowing for channel sharing by broadcasters, trying to make the VHF band more DTV-friendly and increasing opportunities for flexible use.

Lake said he wanted broadcaster input on those proposals. "We would love to receive the constructive input of people in this room on the ideas in that Notice, and on each of the future steps that will be necessary to implement the proposal." But he suggested that input needed to be informed by two facts: "The stratospheric growth of wireless broadband use" and "that the digital transition makes it possible to transmit broadcast TV programming more efficiently."

In the same speech in which Lake announced that the FCC would be launching a rulemaking on retransmission consent, something broadcasters were not eager for it to do, he also said he needed help from broadcasters on structuring incentive auctions to compensate broadcasters for moving off their spectrum. Since Congress will first have to approve those auctions, the FCC could also use broadcaster support for its plan on Capitol Hill, though Lake made no such appeal. He also called the auctions an "option," rather than a given.

"We'll need your help in structuring that [spectrum auction] option to make it achieve its purposes for wireless consumers, for broadcasters, for the Treasury, and for job creation. If you can work with us constructively on what we are in fact proposing, you can be our partners in achieving one of the most innovative advances in spectrum policy of the century," he said.

He reiterated that participation would be voluntary. "[I]t is important to give us your thoughts on what we are proposing," he said, "and not to perpetuate any misunderstandings about things we're not. We want to implement incentive auctions that will give broadcasters an option they do not have today - one they can choose voluntarily if they find it attractive."

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