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CTIA to Seek Spectrum Auction Delay

The Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) has confirmed it plans to ask the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to indefinitely delay the 700 MHz spectrum auction scheduled for June 19. Originally scheduled for May of 2000, the auction has been postponed five times before the FCC selected the June 19 date.

While the Washington, D.C.-based CTIA has not actually filed its request with the FCC, the industry trade group was forced to confirm that it plans to seek the delay after Paxson Communications Corp. Chairman Lowell W. Paxson held a press conference in Florida Tuesday afternoon denouncing CTIA's intentions.

"When the wireless community led by CTIA sought a delay of this auction until June of 2001, they cited the need to assess market conditions, develop business plans and otherwise prepare for the auction. The scheduled June 19, 2002, auction date has given them another full year to prepare and the current postponement request of CTIA cannot be justified and must be denied," Paxson, whose company owns and operates 65 television stations, said.

The auction covers wireless spectrum where television channels 60-69 are located and are scheduled to be abandoned as broadcasters make the transition to digital television. In January of last year, the FCC ruled that the winners of the wireless auction would have to negotiate (i.e., for money) with broadcasters instead of simply forcing the stations to give up the space, a point not lost on CTIA President and Chief Operating Officer Tom Wheeler.

"Paxson's hell-bent-for-auction attitude is so strong he objects to our filing even before it is submitted. When we file we will explain the policy issues involved and why a June auction would violate the Communications Act," Wheeler said in a late Tuesday afternoon statement. "In the interim, however, it is clear that to hold an auction in June would make the FCC the croupier collecting the ante for the real game: the subsequent private auction of spectrum the broadcasters received for free, promised to give back, and now want to use for personal enrichment by exploiting a carefully crafted legislative loophole."

Paxson said that if the FCC postpones the auction again the Spectrum Clearing Alliance, which was formed by broadcasters two years ago to facilitate the band clearing, will dissolve and any voluntary band clearing efforts will come to an abrupt end. If the auction date is moved yet again, "no reasonable broadcaster will continue to believe that band clearing efforts are possible and there will be no band clearing or early freeing up the spectrum so badly needed by the nation's public safety workers and the wireless companies."

Instead, Paxson claimed, broadcasters will complete their FCC established digital television construction and continue to operate their analog stations until "what analysts believe will be well into the next decade."