TV Owners To FCC: Drop Spectrum Meetings

Station groups tell the commission it should drop its plans to hold one-on-one meetings with stations to convince them to participate in the incentive auction. Such meetings could be construed as a “big stick” with possible FCC enforcement activity as a price for non-cooperation, they say.

A group of 15 TV station group owners calling themselves the Television Licensee Coalition (TLC) have asked the FCC to stop its “targeted outreach” efforts to convince stations to participate in the commission’s spectrum incentive auction. The groups comprising the TLC said they are not identifying themselves “due to the sensitive nature of the issues….” The comments were filed by Dennis P. Corbett of the Lerman Senter law firm.

In January, the FCC announced that it would start holding one-on-one sessions in an attempt to persuade balking broadcasters to play ball in an auction intended to repurpose broadcast spectrum for smartphones and other wireless devices.

“We do not want to hold a party and have nobody show up, so our outreach to broadcasters must be more than broad,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, at the time. “One-to-one outreach is essential.”

Now, in a filing to the commission, TLC says that while it recognizes that “the FCC has quite properly embarked on a process of generally educating TV stations about this opportunity,” its plan to hold one-on-one sessions could be interpreted as “introducing an element of compulsion into the process.”

Because the Spectrum Act mandates a voluntary auction, TLC says, “the commission risks tipping the delicate balance” between a truly voluntary auction “and one in which the government is overreaching,” which would violate its statutory dictate.”

“Targeted outreach,” the group continues, “by definition ‘targets’ a particular TV station’s spectrum for government acquisition. Given the FCC’s broad powers, a station receiving such attention could justifiably believe that it would turn down an agency request for a one-on-one conversation or closed-door visit at its peril.” This, it submits, “risks creating an appearance of impropriety.”


TLC goes on to say that “another factor weighing against targeted outreach is the disproportionate impact it could have on niche television stations that serve specialized constituencies, such as minority viewers. Such smaller stations may prove to be particularly vulnerable to any pressure they perceive from FCC personnel….”

TLC concludes, saying that for all of these reasons, the commission should “shelve the idea of conducting targeted outreach in advance of the incentive auction, in favor of renewed reliance on generalized educational efforts that ‘get the word out’ while carefully safeguarding the statutorily mandated voluntary nature of the incentive auction.”

Comments (2)

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Ellen Samrock says:

April 4, 2014 at 10:00 pm

Hey, if Preston Padden can have his Expanding Opportunities…blah, blah coalition, station group owners who want to stay in business should be able to have theirs too. Call it counter-balance, Yin and Yang, push back, whatever. They value their spectrum and see value in it, particularly as ATSC 3.0 begins its roll out. It could be a whole new game for terrestrial TV at that point.

Mark Gardner says:

April 7, 2014 at 8:24 pm

Follow the money