Padden Assembling Coalition of the Willing (Spectrum Sellers)

New Group Will Advocate for 'Right Conditions' for Stations to Auction Spectrum

Broadcasters that may want to sell some of their spectrum rights to the government in the upcoming incentive auctions have formed the Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition to advocate for a successful auction, according to Preston Padden, former Disney Washington and News Corp. executive, who is putting together the group.

Padden will be executive director and divide his time between his home in Colorado and Washington. "I'll obviously be seeing my friends in Washington more than I have," he said.

"This coalition's sole focus is to advocate for the success of the voluntary incentive auction of broadcast spectrum," Padden said in announcing the group's formation. "The FCC has only one shot to get it right. The coalition is dedicated to ensuring we have the rules and procedures in place to maximize the auction's chance to succeed."

The FCC in September released a proposed framework for its two-sided spectrum incentive auction. The first side will feature broadcasters bidding on who will take the least money (low bid wins) for relinquishing spectrum the FCC is interested in, which is primarily in large, urban markets. The second part is auctioning that spectrum to the highest bidder, which presumably will be wireless companies complaining of a spectrum crunch.

Padden wouldn't identify the members of the coalition -- in fact, not identifying them is part of the charter -- but the announcement says that the founding members include TV stations that "under the right conditions, would like to participate in the auction." He said those "right conditions" will be determined by the members of the group's executive committee.

The National Association of Broadcasters has acknowledged that some broadcasters may want to participate, but has said there was no groundswell of members looking to sell. Padden says he sees the coalition as being complementary to the efforts of NAB, which has also said it wants to work with the FCC on a successful auction.

Padden said that the members would not be identified for "obvious" reasons. "Consistent with the confidentiality requirements of the Spectrum Act and the confidentiality discussion in the FCC's Incentive Auction Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the coalition will not be disclosing the identity of its members," he said in the announcement, pointing out that they have ongoing businesses and employees, advertisers and viewers to think about.

Padden is no stranger to advocating for the interests of the smaller TV stations that are the most likely to be interested in selling some spectrum. He is also the former head of the Association of Independent Television Stations (which no longer exists), and told Multichannel News that new coalition members include some broadcasters he has worked with during his career, although that does not narrow the field particularly.

At a recent FCC workshop on the incentive auctions, FCC officials recognized that broadcasters would be sensitive about being identified as willing to offer up spectrum, particularly given that their bids might not be successful. The statute also requires that the FCC keep the names of bidders confidential, Padden points out.

"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," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. "If the devastation of Hurricane Sandy has demonstrated anything over the last two weeks, it's been the unique resiliency and reliability of our transmission architecture and the indispensable lifeline role played by local broadcasting in the fabric of American life."