60-69 or fight


Wireless companies planning to bid on spectrum now used for TV channels 60-69 are fighting for more leverage to quickly move holdout broadcasters off the frequencies.

The spectrum, located on the 700 MHz band, is slated for auction June 7, but potential bidders in the government's auction are unsure how much they are willing to pay for new licenses that are being created to cover large portions of the country. Until broadcasters spell out how much it will take for them to give up their channels before the federal 2006 deadline, wireless companies say they cannot know how much to pay Uncle Sam.

Broadcast trade groups oppose the FCC plan for early buyouts, arguing that government eagerness to get new services on the band will cause stations to be pressured into accepting the offers against their will.

The wireless providers are asking for government help in two forms. First, they want the FCC to rule that lone holdouts can be forced to accept the same early-buyout deal agreed to by other stations operating on chs. 60-69 in a particular market, or to be forcibly relocated to other parts of the TV spectrum and compensated only for the costs of moving.

The rule is needed because broadcasters in major markets are angling to be the holdouts in their towns, hoping they can drive the buyout prices to extravagant highs, said Peter Crampton, chairman of Spectrum Exchange Group, which is hoping to broker deals between stations and winners of the government's auction. So far, no deals. "The hold-out problem is what's making the negotiations so difficult," he said.

With the total cost of obtaining the spectrum uncertain, one company expected to be a major player in the auction is asking for a one-month delay. On April 21 Verizon Wireless asked the FCC to postpone the auction until July 12.

Agency officials would not comment on chances for a delay.

The FCC has set the June deadline in hopes of getting proceeds into the U.S. Treasury by Sept. 30, as ordered by Congress. The month delay should not hinder that goal, Verizon said. Privately, the wireless industry is asking for an even longer delay in the auction, possibly until September.