National Journal

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The Federal Communications Commission on Friday revealed how much it would pay virtually any television station in the country to go off the air.

And some TV station owners could earn a fortune if they’re willing to go out of business. The agency’s biggest opening offer is $900 million to WCBS‐TV, the CBS affiliate in New York City. The FCC is planning to offer hundreds of millions of dollars to other major TV stations in big media markets, but the agency isn’t offering any money to some stations in small markets.

The FCC plans to auction the broadcast licenses to cellular carriers like Verizon and AT&T, who will use the frequencies to upgrade the capacity of their networks. The carriers have been scrambling in recent years to keep pace with skyrocketing traffic as consumers increasingly watch videos, stream music, and browse the Web on their mobile devices.

The government expects to earn tens billions of dollars from the auction to reduce the federal debt, even after paying all of the TV stations. The  offers to the TV stations could go down after the opening bids. 

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler called Friday’s release of opening-bid prices a “watershed moment” in his agency’s preparation for the auction, which is scheduled to take place next March.

“For all practical purposes, we’ve fired the starting gun: the release of final opening bid prices—combined with the detailed application procedures and other data released yesterday—provides broadcasters with all of the information they need to decide whether to apply to participate in the auction,” Wheeler said in a statement.

Many stations are expected to turn down the FCC’s offer and remain on the air. The FCC is also offering less money to stations that stay on the air but switch to less valuable frequencies. The FCC has set a Dec. 18 deadline for stations to indicate whether they’re interested in participating in the auction.

Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, which represents the nation’s TV stations, said his group is still reviewing the figures and declined to comment further.

This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.

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