Ball State weighs putting TV frequency up for auction

Ball State University
(WISH Photo, file)

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) — Ball State University officials are considering whether to take part in a federal auction of broadcast frequencies that could lead to its public television station going off the air.

The Federal Communications Commission is planning an auction process to free up frequencies for use by wireless broadband companies, such as AT&T and Verizon, and giving them more capacity for mobile data services and easing congested networks.

The agency set a maximum of $277 million that the government would pay Ball State to give up WIPB-TV’s license, although experts say it is unlikely the university would receive that much, The (Muncie) Star Press reported.

Ball State spokeswoman Joan Todd said the university isn’t obligated to join the auction despite a Board of Trustees vote this fall authorizing administrators to review their options. The university has until Dec. 18 to submit an application to participate in the auction process.

“We can’t speculate on potential outcomes until we know what, if any, bids might come in,” she said.

WIPB-TV’s over-the-air signal reaches 22 eastern Indiana counties. In fiscal year 2014, the station’s operating expenses of $4.6 million exceeded its operating revenue by nearly $500,000.

While nearly every TV station in the country will get an opening offer to sell, the FCC is expected to buy spectrum in large markets, geographically adjacent markets or congested markets where there are many broadcasters, according to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Barry Umansky, a Ball State telecommunications professor and former FCC attorney, said WIPB’s signal causes interference around Indianapolis and its fast-growing northern suburbs such Carmel and Noblesville, but he believed any auction bid for its frequency will be “substantially less” than $277 million.

All television stations must pay attention to the auction process because of the potential money involved, said Perry Metz, director of radio/TV services at Indiana University.

“We know all of these opening bids are artificially high to get everybody’s attention,” Metz said. “They are not going to sell for that price in Indiana.”


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