FCC Closes Docket on 'Spectrumless' Station Sale

Hero, owner of auction winner KBEH, had withdrawn deal

The FCC has closed the docket on the proposed sale of the post-auction assets of Hero Licenseco's KBEH Oxnard, Calif., to KWHY-22 Broadcasting, Los Angeles, accepting the withdrawal of the license transfer application by the parties.

Hero had proposed to sell its license and must-carry rights after also submitting the winning bid to sell the spectrum of KBEH in the broadcast incentive auction. 

The FCC opened a docket on the sale, asking for comment on that first-of-its-kind proposal to sell the license of a station that no longer had spectrum—the FCC had allowed such auction winners to retain their license and must-carry rights, which the stations signaled they planned to use by sharing spectrum with another station and so staying on the air, though the FCC did not mandate they do so even after signaling that was their intention.

KBEH struck such a sharing deal with KWHY, which remains the case an attorney for KBEH told B&C last week after the sale was called off. 

Hero withdrew its application for the license transfer last week, but some of the comments on the proposal went beyond that specific deal to whether stations should be allowed to sell spectrumless licenses and must-carry rights. 

Had the Hero sale gone through, Hero, which got $146.6 million for the 6 MHz worth of spectrum used by KBEH, would have gotten an extra $10 million for the license, must-carry rights and some physical assets.

In opening the docket on the sale, the FCC was essentially asking for input on whether it should allow the Los Angeles television station that agreed to give up its spectrum in the incentive auction, and by extension other similarly situated stations, to be able to sell its license and must-carry rights, though it signaled that was probably not out of bounds.

At the time Hero filed the application early last month, an FCC spokesperson confirmed that winning bidders still have a license until they turn it in, so "to the extent we receive an application for transfer of such licenses we'll consider them as they're filed." 

Noncommercial WGBH joined with others, many of them winning auction bidders, to file comments on the docket supporting the transfer of licenses and must-carry rights of winning bidders as a matter of course, so long as the deal meets the public interest test for all license transfers. They said they were not commenting on the deal, per se, but on the larger issue. 

An FCC spokesperson said that while the docket was closing, the comments would remain part of the public record.

The resolution of that may have to wait until another similar sale is proposed—WGBH and other broadcasters said some sales were in the wings waiting to see how the FCC came down on the issue. The FCC could also issue a declaratory ruling, either on its own initiative or in response to a petition from one of the parties, on that wider question of the transferability of those post-auction winner licenses and must-carry rights.