CPB eyes TV CSG rules in anticipation of spectrum auctions

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CPB will review its television Community Service Grant policies to clarify how to handle station revenues from the upcoming spectrum auction.

The auctions, mandated by Congress to be conducted by the FCC before 2022, will clear spectrum for wireless devices. All broadcasters must decide whether to participate, and a station’s sale of spectrum could bring in millions of dollars. So far, two recent noncom TV deals in California and Maryland, in which a speculator paid stations up front for a share of future spectrum proceeds, each topped $1 million. The value of a similar deal in Connecticut was not made public.

As part of its review of CSG policies, CPB will consider whether such auction revenue, as well as sale of spectrum, will count toward stations’ nonfederal financial support (NFFS). “Our impression is that it does not qualify for NFFS,” said Michael Levy, executive vice president. “We will be examining this issue and others within the scope of the review.”

Stations must meet minimum levels of NFFS to qualify for CPB funding. NFFS also figures into the formula to determine the amount of a station’s CSG.

“The entire spectrum recapture process could significantly change the makeup of the American television industry,” CPB’s request for proposals notes, “and the technological, economic, business and legal models underlying it. This process has a direct effect on the policy, structure, administration and distribution” of CSGs.

In its Aug. 22 RFP, CPB said it is seeking a facilitator to conduct four meetings in Washington, D.C., through March 2015. A panel of station executives and representatives of national public media organizations will be invited to provide input. An additional 12 meetings are planned for after the auction, tentatively set for mid-2015.

After the meetings, the panel will recommend policy updates to CPB management. CPB will share proposals with all general managers for feedback and make formal recommendations to the CPB Board.

The last TV CSG review was conducted in 2009-10, before the FCC issued its 2010 National Broadband Plan that announced the spectrum auctions.

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