UPDATE, 12:40 PM: NAB chief Gordon Smith warns that the FCC may be disappointed by the number of TV stations that will volunteer to give up their spectrum. “If there’s a stampede coming, we don’t hear any hooves,” he says. And the FCC probably won’t be interested in the rural stations that are most likely to be interested in a payout from an auction. The need for spectrum for wireless broadband “is an urban concern, not a rural concern. Oregon, where I’m from, will never run out of spectrum.” The NAB will cooperate with the FCC as it enters what Smith says is “uncharted territory.” But the trade group will try to ensure that stations aren’t coerced to participate in the auction. “That remains the focus of our concern.” Since the FCC action follows congressional legislation, the process likely will proceed no mater who wins the presidential election in November.
PREVIOUS, 11:30 AM: The plan has been a long time coming, and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski says it’s “a big deal” — although it could result in a bruising fight with broadcasters. The commission today unanimously endorsed a notice of proposed rulemaking that would enable broadcasters to voluntarily give up some of the airwave spectrum that they currently use, and share in the READ MORE »
This is a big deal in Washington: The FCC desperately wants TV station owners to give up some of the airwave spectrum they use, so it can be redeployed for wireless broadband. The powerful National Association of Broadcasters is pushing back, skeptical that stations will be pressured to sell. But a report this morning from RBC Capital Markets analyst David Bank says it would be smart business for a lot of independently owned stations to go ahead and make a deal with the feds. He found several cases where stations recently were sold for less than the owner could have received by accepting just 25% of what wireless providers are paying for spectrum. That means it’s possible “these stations could see their values rise, based solely on the value of their spectrum.” Major network owners including CBS, News Corp, and Disney also could benefit if they agree to auction off some of the airwaves they use — but the value might not be worth the risk just yet. Bank figures that CBS’ share price would rise 1.6% if it sold half of its spectrum Read More »
FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell fired an unexpected shot at Comcast today as the regulatory agency invited the public to comment on a recent deal by the company and other operators to sell airwave spectrum they control to Verizon. Noting that Comcast’s CFO recently told analysts that the cable company never planned to built a business for the airwaves, McDowell asked: “Were they purchased under false pretences?” Federal law bars companies from warehousing spectrum. The deal with Verizon must be approved by the FCC and Justice Department before it can close. ”Let’s be careful,” McDowell said at the 2012 International CES. “We want to be sure consumers have a disruptive and constructive marketplace….The commission has not done a good job of that in the past.” Another FCC Commissioner, Mignon Clyburn said that “we look at it on a case by case basis. …We’re not in isolation.” Read More »
For those who don’t know, “spectrum” is techno-speak for the airwaves used to transmit TV shows and cell phone calls among other things. And it’s at the center of what is being called one of the biggest telecom lobbying battles of the year. National Association Of Broadcasters chief Gordon Smith told station owners last week at their annual convention in Las Vegas that the trade group is “in full battle mode.” If he means it, then it would be a big threat to the Obama administration’s wireless broadband plan. The broadcasters’ trade group would rather eat glass than give up the medium they’ve used to transmit shows since the 1950s, when Milton Berle ruled primetime. The NAB’s biggest concern is that the government might seize spectrum without a broadcaster’s consent. CBS chief Les Moonves echoed that message when he said last week that, as long as it “remains voluntary, we’re fine with that. Because we’re not going to volunteer.”
True, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski promises that “no broadcaster will be forced to offer up spectrum for auction.” Those who do, he adds, “will know exactly what the deal is before relinquishing any rights.” And that’s the key. Will this turn into a titanic battle that will shape the future of media and the digital economy? I’m of the opinion that there isn’t thatbig a divide between the FCC and NAB’s positions. And I think all the posturing and threats will end as soon as Genachowski and the NAB can agree on how much stations owners should receive for giving up their claim on what used to be thought of as the public’s property.
Here’s what you need to know now: Read More »