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Two Los Angeles TV stations to test sharing spectrum

January 28, 2014|By Joe Flint
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

This story has been corrected. See below for details.

Two Los Angeles television stations want to test whether it is indeed better to share.

Non-commercial KLCS-TV and commercial station KJLA-TV have asked the Federal Communications Commission for permission to take part in an experiment to determine if the two stations can share the same airwaves without reducing the quality of their signals for viewers.

The channel-sharing test, if successful, could encourage other broadcasters to do the same. The FCC wants broadcasters to consider sharing channels as part of the agency's plan to reclaim spectrum from local TV stations and then auction it off to wireless companies. Broadcasters would also get a cut of the proceeds.

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"Since spectrum is a finite and valuable resource, channel-sharing is truly a win-win-win for consumers, broadcasters and wireless providers," said Steve Largent, president and chief executive of CTIA, the lobbying arm of the wireless industry, which announced the sharing agreement and worked with both stations behind the scenes.

Francis Wilkinson, vice president of KJLA, said the test will "enable us to evaluate the practical impact of channel-sharing."

The FCC also greeted the proposed test with enthusiasm.

"Channel-sharing represents a unique option for broadcasters that wish to continue to broadcast over-the-air programming, while also taking advantage of the incentive auction’s once-in-a-lifetime financial opportunity," an FCC spokesman said. "We welcome this pilot project proposal, and look forward to reviewing it closely."

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The FCC is looking to auction spectrum worth $25 billion and use the proceeds to build a new national network for law enforcement and public safety workers. Broadcasters who participate will also get part of the proceeds.

Many broadcasters have shown little enthusiasm for parting with their spectrum and fear that the FCC's voluntary auction could become mandatory.

The National Assn. of Broadcasters, which lobbies for local television stations and has questioned whether there is a real spectrum shortage, had a lukewarm reaction to the news.

"On a technical level, one of the main challenges to channel-sharing concerns the ability of the sharers to offer new and innovative services as they are limiting their available spectrum. On the business side, there are difficult contractual provisions that would need to be addressed," said National Assn. of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton.

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Most big television stations are expected to pass on giving up spectrum, but struggling smaller stations and public television stations could be willing to take the plunge.

"Sharing Stations get to continue broadcasting and get a big check -- what's not to like?" said Preston Padden, a former Fox and Disney executive who now heads the Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition, a group representing TV stations interested in participating in the FCC auctions.

Advocates of a spectrum auction praised the two stations.

"For many broadcast stations, the idea of channel-sharing is new and uncertain; by providing a living laboratory of this technology in practice, broadcast stations can see up close how such a model can work," said Phil Weiser, dean of the Colorado Law School and a former technology advisor for the Obama administration.

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Twitter: @JBFlint

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A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that broadcasters could receive as much as $1.75 billion from participating in the Federal Communications Commission's spectrum auctions. The 1.75 billion is to compensate broadcasters who stay in broadcasting but are forced to move to a lower channel position due to others selling spectrum.

The $1,75 billion has been allocated for braodcasters who do not participate but nonetheless 

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