Announcement promotes series of webinars targeting TV broadcasters

As far as the Commission’s concerned, it’s apparently all systems go and full speed ahead with the effort to encourage TV broadcasters to relinquish their spectrum so that it can be used to further the National Broadband Plan. The latest evidence of this is the following announcement sent by Commission reps to state broadcast associations:

FCC Webinar for Television Broadcasters

Please join FCC Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake and Rebecca Hanson, Senior Advisor, Broadcast Spectrum, in a live webinar that describes the financial opportunities offered by voluntary incentive auctions, as proposed in the FCC’s National Broadband Plan.  Incentive auctions for TV spectrum seek to offer broadcasters new business model options involving their voluntary contribution of some or all of their licensed spectrum, including options that allow broadcasters to participate and continue to broadcast. This webinar will give an overview of those opportunities and will provide an opportunity for the FCC representatives to respond to questions, including questions about the need to repack the remaining television channels following the auction. Specific topics will include:

— How would an incentive auction work?

— Broadcaster Opportunities, channel-sharing, and

— VHF Repacking Implications

Station owners, managers, key personnel, and station attorneys are invited to participate – so please forward this notice to others who have interest.  Stay tuned for details about registration for this event.

Thank you.

A total of 15 separate presentations have apparently been scheduled from March 10 – April 6. We don’t know if this is the final number. Nor have we yet gotten the scoop on how to access any of the webinars (URL’s, dial-in phone numbers, access codes, etc.), but when we do, we’ll be sure to pass along what we learn, so check back here for updates.

However one might feel about the re-purposing of TV spectrum, it would make sense to attend the webinar if only to get, straight from the horse’s mouth, any and all details of the plan that might be disclosed. For more than a year the Commission has demonstrated an overwhelming determination to use TV spectrum for broadband. The timing of these webinars may be somewhat premature – for instance, the spectrum at issue has still not been allocated for broadband use (although that’s in the works), and the FCC doesn’t have the authority to provide broadcasters “incentives” in the form of portions of auction proceeds – but the fact is that the Commission seems absolutely bound and determined to make the re-purposing happen. That being the case, it’s a good idea for all folks likely to be affected by the change – broadcasters being the most obvious example – to learn as much about the plan as possible as early as possible.

Of particular interest should be the “new business model options” the Commission has in mind for broadcasters. Helpful suggestions about new alternatives and opportunities are always welcome, even when the source is as unlikely as the federal government. It is unclear, however, whether the Commission’s list of “options” will be as broad as possible: in one recent decision, the Media Bureau displayed a curiously constricted approach to a possible alternative use of broadcast spectrum. The Bureau denied a request by an LPTV licensee to test an innovative technology that might have led to a “new business model option”. It was not an option, apparently, that the Commission wants to encourage. (Full disclosure: FHH member Peter Tannenwald represents the proponent in that case.)

It will also be intriguing to hear the Commission’s take on “how would an incentive auction work?” As noted, the agency still doesn’t have the authority to share its auction proceeds with private parties (like broadcasters seeking compensation for turning their spectrum in for auction). Nor has it been determined precisely – or even roughly – how any individual broadcaster’s share of those proceeds might be computed. As a result, we shouldn’t be surprised if this portion of the webinar tends to be longer on hopeful promotion than on useful practical detail.

Still, the fact that the Commission is sending its missionaries out to preach the gospel of spectrum re-purposing and, in the process, possibly convert non-believers is an important development for all concerned. It presents opportunities for all sides. Such opportunities should not be ignored.