Billions of Dollars in Spectrum Revenue a Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity to Strengthen Local Journalism

Contact Info: 

Timothy Karr, 201-533-8838

WASHINGTON — On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission announced that payouts from its broadcast airwaves incentive auction, which raised $19.8 billion in total, would include $10.1 billion for 175 television stations that agreed to relinquish some or all of their channels.

The FCC, which concluded the auction in February 2017, bought back some of the airwaves TV stations use and sold them to companies including AT&T, Comcast, DISH and T-Mobile that provide broadband and other communications services.

Today the agency released the list of stations that successfully participated in the auction as well as information on the revenue each individual station will receive for selling off its spectrum rights: https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-17-314A2.pdf.

Of the 175 television stations that sold their licenses, at least 36 are noncommercial outlets. This includes New Jersey public-television stations WNJN and WNJT, which together brought in more than $330 million in auction revenues, which are two of the largest individual payouts of any noncommercial stations. Now both stations plan to go off the air. All told, noncommercial television stations will receive more than $2.4 billion from the auction.

Earlier this year, Free Press Action Fund unveiled its News Voices spectrum campaign, which is urging New Jersey lawmakers to use the state’s auction revenues to give communities the news and information they need.

In March, Free Press Action Fund proposed the formation of the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, which would invest revenue from the sale of New Jersey’s public broadcasting stations in community news-and-information projects. Funds could support projects that strengthen public-interest journalism, advance research and innovation in the media field, develop and deploy civic technology, and promote civic engagement.

In the months ahead Free Press Action Fund will expand this campaign beyond New Jersey to communities around the country where local stations also participated in the spectrum auction.

Mike Rispoli, Free Press Action Fund journalism campaign director and director of the News Voices: New Jersey project, made the following statement:

“This auction marks a shift in the ways that public-broadcasting spectrum will be used, but that doesn’t mean the beneficiaries of this sale should abandon their obligation to serve their communities.

“When local stations go off the air, news coverage disappears. That means people are less informed, civic participation drops and political corruption increases. Spectrum revenues must be used to support those who rely on locally produced news and information to engage with their neighbors, learn about volunteer opportunities, make decisions about voting, run for public office, get information about small businesses and support their children in local schools.

“Some ideas we’ve heard from journalists and community members on how to use these public proceeds include support for locally focused digital news startups; apps and tools to help people sift through public data and expedite FOIA requests; robust community-engagement projects designed to lift up voices long ignored by newsrooms, in communities of color, immigrant communities, and other underserved areas; and media-literacy programs to identify and combat the spread of fake news and disinformation.

“These publicly owned airwaves came with the obligation to serve the people in the selling stations’ local broadcast areas. It’s only right that money from the sale of the state’s 20th-century media outlets be used to create a new, forward-thinking media landscape for this century that focuses on local communities and is attuned to residents’ needs.”

Learn more about News Voices: New Jersey here: https://www.newsvoices.org/new-jersey

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