Pubmedia trust fund hopes dim after White House announces broadband plans

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The administration’s fast-track plan for broadband spectrum reallocation does not include the much-anticipated public media trust fund created by auction proceeds (background, Current, Feb. 8, 2010). A four-point White House fact sheet released today (June 28) for the media says auction revenue instead will be used to “promote public safety, job-creating infrastructure investment and deficit reduction.” In a statement (PDF), Federal Communications Chairman Julius Genachowski endorsed President Obama’s plan, including the spectrum auction “generating revenue to fund a world-class mobile broadband network for our nation’s emergency responders.” Neither the White House memo nor FCC statement specifically mentioned public broadcasting.

However, the National Broadband Plan did, recommending that “Congress should consider dedicating all the proceeds from the auctioned spectrum contributed by public broadcasters to endow a trust fund for the production, distribution and archiving of digital public media. There would be multiple benefits to public television stations who participate in this auction. First, it could provide significant savings in operational expenses to stations that share transmission facilities. Second, 100 percent of proceeds from the public television spectrum auction would be used to fund digital multimedia content. The proceeds should be distributed so that a significant portion of revenues generated by the sale of spectrum go to public media in the communities from which spectrum was contributed.”

In a conference call with reporters, Jason Furman, deputy director of the National Economic Council, announced the administration’s four steps for achieving a release of 500 MHz of spectrum for the growing number of wireless devices: Identify spectrum for reallocation, provide tools to free it up, enable spectrum to be put to “highest value uses” (mobile broadband, unlicensed bandwith for tech startups, and spectrum sharing), and use auction proceeds to benefit public safety, job growth and deficit reduction. The White House has no official estimate of revenues from a spectrum auction but notes it “could reach the tens of billions of dollars.”

A White House official told Broadcasting & Cable that President Obama does not favor mandatory spectrum give-backs, which some broadcasters fear.

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