Auction Could Re-Write Local Media Definition

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Billions of dollars are likely to change hands during the FCC’s spectrum incentive auction. The money could be used to transform local media nationwide.

Telecoms have referred to a “spectrum crisis,” as they try to sate the public’s appetite for bandwidth to deliver streaming video, as well as texts and social media to consumers.

Auction proceeds could be used to build 21st-century infrastructure for public interest media, writes Christopher Daggett, president and chief executive officer of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation in an Op Ed for the New York Times. States, communities and universities that decided to auction some or all of their television spectrum will have a chance to invest in new ways to meet the public’s information needs, he writes.

Digital news sites, blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels, public data sites and apps can be built with some of the funds, according to Daggett. Nonprofit Free Press research indicates 54 public television stations applied to take part in the auction and each potentially worth tens to hundreds of millions of dollars at auction.

New Jersey, for example, has a huge population, squeezed airwaves and a large mobile data demand. The FCC estimated before the auction began, the four licenses combined operated by New York Public Television WNET could be worth up to some $2.3 billion.

Auction participants and the agency can’t discuss auction specifics until the auction is over. That could happen in early 2017; afterwards, the Commission will announce winning bidders, Inside Towers has reported.

Daggett suggests the New Jersey governor and its state legislature create a fund to support a new model for public-interest media, financed mainly by auction revenue, “The New Jersey fund could support civic technology apps to put valuable data about elections, services and government spending into people’s hands,” among other uses.

The foundation, along with the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Democracy Fund Voice and others, supports Free Press in its public education and engagement campaign to gather input from across New Jersey and push public officials to create a new public fund.  

“We have a rare chance to strengthen communities by breathing new energy into local news and information. Members of the public no doubt could come up with many other superb ideas. So why not ask them?” writes Daggett.

November 30, 2016

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