Paxson pushes spectrum trade-off


Paxson Communications Chairman Lowell "Bud" Paxson Wednesday said almost half of the broadcasters operating on TV channels 60-69 have signed on to a plan that will allow television spectrum worth tens of billions of dollars to be turned over to new wireless user years ahead of schedule.

The price: Paxson's group will demand that the government force cable companies to carry the multiple digital signals that stations plan to offer, not just the one primary channel required under current rules. Plus they insist that broadcasters take a cut from of the $30 billion or more that wireless companies are expected to pay for the TV spectrum when it is auctioned in September.

Paxson said other major TV groups signed on to the plan are Univision, Shop-at-Home and Pappas Telecasting, which along with Paxson account for 40% of the 138 stations with allotments on channels 60-69, which is located on the 700 MHz band. He said he hopes to have almost all of the stations on the band signed on by the time he unveils details of his band-clearing plan. Under his plan, broadcasters would strike early buyout deals with potential wireless bidders in the weeks before the FCC's auction.
Paxson was adamant that TV broadcasters win cable carriage rights for the six digital signals that a broadcaster can fit into the same amount of spectrum now devoted to one analog signal.

"In our business plan it makes sense to be in multiple networks," he said. Paxson said the expectation that TV stations will devote most of their digital spectrum to one high-definition signal is now "dead".

Without multiple carriage rights, all of the stations operating on channels 60-69 may refuse to give up their signals early. A hold out would be a devastating blow to the wireless companies now chafing at the chance to pick up the TV spectrum. Without early buyout deals, TV stations are entitled to keep their analog signals 2006 at the earliest, but more than likely stations could keep their analog signals indefinitely because none would be required to give up spectrum until 85% of American homes are equipped with digital television.
- Bill McConnell