FCC Broadcast buyback program..?

Garrett Wollman wollman@bimajority.org
Sat Dec 19 17:18:05 EST 2015

<<On Sat, 19 Dec 2015 21:06:59 +0000, Michael Wilkins <wilkinsmg@hotmail.com> said:

> What happens with "public" broadcasters - those that receive
> government funding - the likes of WGBH for example? Could they
> "auction" off one of their "properties," and if so, where does the
> money go? (whoa, that was a lot of parentheses!) 

They are treated the same as any other broadcasters: if they choose to
participate, and their spectrum is sold at auction, they will receive
money, and will have the option of either turning in their license or
moving to another channel (possibly in a multiplexed "share-time"
arrangement with another licensee).

Public broadcasters in most of the country don't actually receive much
in the way of direct government funding, although back during the DTV
transition there was a substantial amount appropriated to subsidize
the replacement of transmission facilities.  In some states, the
public broadcasters are directly operated by state universities or
other state agencies, but many of those facilities serve rural areas
where there is little demand for spectrum from the likes of Verizon
and AT&T, so they probably won't get much.

Much of the money is expected to go to "spectrum speculators" who
bought up major-market stations with no audience and minimal
programming costs (often leased-time) in the expectation of being able
to sell the spectrum.  In markets like Boston, where the speculators
own facilities that are not in themselves valuable, that spectrum is
likely to be taken anyway, for "repacking", and assigned to some other
broadcaster that is remaining on the air.  (E.g., WMFP's RF channel 18
is probably not going to be bought by anyone, but they could still get
auction proceeds if that channel is reassigned to, say, WYDN in
exchange for the more valuable channel 47.)

This is actually a two-way auction: on one side, the spectrum will be
auctioned off to wireless carriers; on the other side, the television
broadcasters will auction their spectrum to the FCC.  The FCC will
accept the minimum possible bids from broadcast licensees to allow
both wireless carriers and the remaining broadcasters sufficient
spectrum to meet their needs, and the government will pocket the

Regular ("full power") and class-A low-power stations are eligible to
participate in the auction.  Translators and other low-power stations,
being unprotected secondary services, will get kicked off in the
repacking as their channels will be reassigned.


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