Butler cautiously optimistic about spectrum auctions’ effects on public broadcasting

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As broadcasters and their representatives in Washington, D.C., prepare for the FCC’s upcoming auctions of television broadcast spectrum, public TV’s top lobbyist is proceeding with the view that the auctions present more of an opportunity for the field than a threat.

Patrick Butler, president of the Association of Public Television Stations, spoke with Current after a June 18 panel discussion hosted by Washington Post Live, “Spectrum Supply and Demand.” He predicted that the spectrum auctions will be concentrated mostly in the nation’s top 25 or 30 broadcast markets, namely in cities with multiple public TV stations.

“We have opportunities in most of those markets to find efficiencies for our system,” he said. “We’re also interested in seeing if there are new revenue opportunities in spectrum leasing and channel sharing with commercial users — wireless users and so forth — which we think could enhance the value of our spectrum.”

But Butler is also on guard for outcomes that might prevent public broadcasters from fulfilling their mission of educating and informing citizens across the country.

“We are obliged by law and by FCC regulations to provide universal service to everybody in America, for free, every day,” he said. “If there is a situation in which these incentive auctions endanger that universal service mission that would be a really big problem for us.”

Butler spoke on the Post’s panel alongside Mary Brown of Cisco Systems, Inc., Michael Catalano of PMT Americas, Larry Irving of the Irving Group, Blair Levin of the Aspen Institute and Teri Takai of the Department of Defense.

Questions, comments, tips? graham.vyse@gmail.com

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