Padden: FCC Does Not Have Enough Auction Volunteers

Outlines FCC proposals that could discourage TV stations from ponying up spectrum

The FCC has not attracted "anything approaching" the number of TV station spectrum volunteers it will need for a successful incentive auction.

That is according to a veteran broadcast executive representing a coalition of 70-plus stations who are at least willing to kick the tires on the FCC offer if the price is right.

According to his testimony for a Dec. 10 incentive auction oversight hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee, Preston Padden, executive director of the Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition, the "canary in the coalmine" on that lack of critical mass was that the FCC official responsible for outreach to broadcasters just left to join the broadcaster—Sinclair—"most opposed to the auction."

Rebecca Hanson, who had been senior advisor on broadcast spectrum in the Media Bureau and a member of the incentive auction task force under FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, left to become senior VP, strategy and policy for Sinclair, based in Washington.

Sinclair has expressed no interest in the auctions, instead pushing the FCC to allow it more flexibility in delivering advanced services with the spectrum it says it plans to hold on to.

Padden plans to tell the Senate that stations can be convinced to participate so long as the FCC does not 1) "score" stations for payment based on population covered or some other factor unrelated to the value of the spectrum to repacking and reclaiming spectrum; 2) impose bidding restrictions that would limit participation by Verizon and AT&T—FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler suggested in a speech this week he might be open to limiting spectrum holdings; or 3) be inflexible with city of license designations when considering channel-sharing proposals.

Padden also plans to prod the FCC for more information, which he says is necessary before stations can decide whether to throw their MHz hats in the ring. That should include, roughly, the starting prices, when the auction will be held, and when they will be expected to stop broadcasting, he says, and the sooner the FCC can provide that the better.