By Alina Selyukh
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Federal Communications Commission staff will hit the road in January for town halls and private meetings with TV station owners and investors to drum up interest in a major upcoming airwaves auction, according to a commission official familiar with the plan.
The FCC plans to travel to large, medium and small markets, making presentations to the broadcast community about the "incentive" auction of airwaves scheduled for mid-2016, which is expected to be the FCC's largest and most complex.
The auction's success hinges on television stations first volunteering to relinquish airwaves, for example by going off air or sharing frequencies with another station, so that the spectrum can be sold to clamoring wireless carriers.
Some of the largest TV networks have rejected the idea and many station owners have been leery of participating, unsure of the value of the sale or its risks.
The FCC has begun a drive to sway reluctant broadcasters, enlisting investment bank Greenhill & Co to compile a financial packet with estimates of what broadcasters in each geographic market could expect from participation.
Starting in January, FCC staff, including Incentive Auction Task Force leaders Gary Epstein and Howard Symons, and Greenhill banker Lawrence Chu, will meet with broadcasters, likely those in and around the top 30 or 40 biggest TV markets, to answer questions and explain the auction's prospects.
Auction officials also plan, upon request, to confidentially meet with station owners and major investors who express interest in the auction, the FCC official said. In those meetings, Greenhill and FCC experts could discuss potential compensation and other practical prospects of a particular station's participation.
Meetings with major investors could create pressure on some larger TV stations to consider auction participation more seriously, though it is unclear how big a role activist investors might play.
An FCC spokeswoman declined comment.
Since the release of Greenhill's packet on Oct. 1, broadcasters have reached out to the FCC a couple of times a day, with questions and inquiries, the FCC official said.
No broadcaster has so far committed to participation, but the official said the FCC was "very encouraged" by the outreach.
TV stations' formal applications are expected to be due the fall of 2015.
Epstein and Symons are also expected to discuss the roadshow and other auction details at a Wells Fargo Securities conference in New York on Thursday.
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh, editing by Ros Krasny and Andrew Hay)