FCC Chair Wheeler advocates for public TV stations to sell spectrum

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The new chair of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, is urging public broadcasters to sell their television bandwidth in upcoming spectrum auctions, reports TVNewsCheck.

In an appearance Monday at Ohio State University in Columbus, Wheeler advocated for channel-sharing deals in which broadcasters would sell off pieces of spectrum and consolidate their signal with other broadcasters. Wheeler said that arrangement would give “forever cash-starved” pubcasters a “pot full of cash” that they could use as an endowment to run their operations while using spectrum more efficiently.

“It may be just a great godsend to the PBS business,” said Wheeler, a former PBS Board member.

In response, Patrick Butler, president of the Association of Public Television Stations advocacy organization, told Current in a statement that pubTV stations “are committed to pursuing their public service missions by the most effective and efficient means possible.”

“The incentive auctions may offer opportunities for some public television stations to improve their financial situations and the efficiency of their operations, and we look forward to working with Chairman Wheeler and his fellow commissioners in the process,” Butler said. “But it should be clearly understood that our stations are making extraordinarily good use of the spectrum they hold in the public interest — pursuing a public service mission of education, public safety and citizenship — and there is no higher or better use of this spectrum that that to which it is currently dedicated.”

CPB has commissioned Booz & Co. to research the effect of spectrum policy issues on the pubTV system for a spring 2014 white paper. In interviews with system leaders for the report, researchers are finding “a significant commitment” to public-service use of spectrum, CPB s.v.p. Mark Erstling told CPB Board members at their September meeting. In fact, Erstling said, some g.m.’s are saying they could use additional bandwidth for public-service projects.

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