NAB’s Spectrum Expert: Five Things to Watch
The National Association of Broadcasters’ executive vice president of Strategic Planning, Rick Kaplan, is broadcasters’ foremost expert and advocate on the upcoming broadcast spectrum auctions. The Federal Communications Commission is currently planning the auction and has indicated it will take place next year. Kaplan offers five main areas that local television stations – and their viewers – should watch as the FCC takes on the unprecedented task of auctioning broadcast TV spectrum.
Coordination Along the Border. To free up nationwide bands of spectrum for mobile broadband, the FCC must update its agreements with Canada and Mexico that currently hamstring the agency’s ability to relocate broadcast stations operating within 250 miles of the border. If the commission fails to reach some agreement—as the statute requires—the auction will yield less money for the Treasury, strand stations along the border and lead to significant and harmful interference issues for television viewers in border regions.
Repacking Part I. The FCC has offered little details as to how it plans to shuffle the remaining television stations following the auction (known as “repacking”). The Commission is currently creating what will surely be extremely complex new software to run the imminent auction and repacking process, throwing out the program they used during the 2009 transition to digital television. Unfortunately, the new program will not have been tested. Broadcast stations should have the ability to test the software and provide feedback to the FCC to ensure their viewers are not harmed during the repacking process.
Repacking: The Sequel. The Spectrum Act, passed by Congress in 2012, compels the FCC to take “all reasonable efforts” to preserve a stations’ coverage area and protect the existing viewers it serves. Broadcasters should be mindful of how and by whom this is interpreted. The proposed FCC rulemaking included some options that could have a detrimental impact on these coverage areas, broadcast stations and their current viewers. The National Association of Broadcasters offered modifications that would give the FCC some more flexibility, and broadcasters will continue to aggressively advocate that their viewers should not lose access to local stations due to the FCC repacking process.
The TV Broadcaster Relocation Fund. Broadcast stations that don’t participate in the auction are rightly concerned about being compensated if they are forced to move. In the Spectrum Act, Congress sought to make the auction as “voluntary” as possible, giving the FCC a $1.75 billion budget to repack and reimburse broadcasters that are forced to move. The FCC, however, doesn’t seem to consider the fund as a budget, meaning there could be out-of-pocket costs for every broadcaster forced to move – those costs could mean less local programming and community service for stations and their viewers.
The Variable Band Plan. The proposed FCC rulemaking recommends creating different band plans in different markets (based on the amount of spectrum it can recover in each). But this is likely to cause major interference for viewers in adjacent markets between broadcasters and wireless carriers operating on the same channels for the first time.
Broadcasters are watching all these issues closely, and working with the FCC and Congress to ensure that as the Commission auctions the broadcast airwaves, viewers continue to have the local TV on which they rely for news, emergency information and great entertainment.