Posts tagged ‘National Association of Broadcasters’

What Consensus Really Means and the Importance of Driving It

Guest Blogger: NAB Spectrum Expert Rick Kaplan, Executive Vice President of Strategic Planning

 

In December, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee conducted an oversight hearing on the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) implementation of the Spectrum Act, and specifically the Commission’s work on the upcoming voluntary broadcast incentive auction. One of the most instructive moments of the hearing occurred during a series of questions posed to then-FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski by Rep. Ed Markey (MA-5). The congressman repeatedly asked Genachowski varying versions of the following questions:

So again, do you have a process that’s totally fair to the broadcasters and to the wireless industry that’s in place? Have you had them in your office simultaneously with their engineers to talk about the issue so that you can hear and your experts can hear the differences which they have?

. . . .

Do you ever have a meeting yourself with the engineers in the room with the other, you know, from all industries you’re sitting there with you? Are engineers hearing the disagreements?

The congressman was pushing the chairman to see if he and/or his staff were taking an active leadership role and directly engaging with industry to tackle this extremely complex proceeding. In effect, he was urging the FCC to drive consensus – to bring stakeholders together to see if there is a sweet spot where those most affected by the auction can find value and buy into the process. Thus, rather than passively perusing the filed comments in a back room and then eventually one day producing a final order seemingly out of thin air, he was suggesting that the FCC should be getting everyone in a room and driving towards a decision.

Had that happened yet at that point? No.

Has it happened in the more than six months since the Commission was urged to do so? No. (That is, unless we count a lone public workshop that was followed up in record time by a Public Notice unsurprisingly having little to do with what was actually achieved at the workshop).

In the absence of a staff process designed to drive consensus through openness, transparency and engagement, however, diverse industries and public interest groups have assembled on our own to work through the various challenges presented by the auction and attendant broadcaster repacking. These conversations have led to a great deal of progress, and even consensus on some major issues.

Have we found unanimity? Of course not. To be clear; reaching consensus is not the same thing as unanimity. Certainly everyone doesn’t have to agree for a general consensus to emerge. Our work has moved the ball far down the field on typically contentious issues. And we believe strongly that the Commission staff should have adopted, and should be adopting, a “get in the room together” approach so we can achieve an expeditious and successful conclusion to the pre-auction process.

Industry and public interest progress is nowhere more apparent than the general consensus that emerged concerning the defining feature of the band plan offered in the original incentive auction Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which widely separated the wireless uplinks and downlinks and placed in between them high-powered broadcast operations. By sitting down together – outside the traditional and somewhat opaque FCC comment process – every company and organization invested in the outcome of the auction (except literally one) agreed that the proposal was an engineering nonstarter. This conclusion was facilitated by broadcast, licensed wireless and unlicensed wireless engineers conferring, sharing information and working towards what would best serve the public interest. 

Last Friday, the FCC posted a blog entitled, “A Band Plan that Serves the Public Interest,” which along with some previous staff remarks, appears to imply in response to growing criticism over the staff’s proposed plans, that only the Commission, and not industry or the public interest community, has the public interest truly in mind. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially in this instance where what is at stake is delivering high quality broadcast and wireless signals to consumers. Indeed, a band plan in the public interest is most likely to result from a process that engages stakeholders in a meaningful fashion and thoroughly examines all of the thorny issues involved. 

We do not appear, however, to be headed in that direction. Most notably, in its unyielding quest and determination for reclaiming variable amounts of spectrum in different markets, the inherent interference consequences of a variable approach are simply being ignored. The staff steadfastly refuses to study the issue with any rigor, model it or even ask a single question about it.

With respect to the challenges of variability, NAB has itself adopted a “getting everyone in the room” philosophy, even without the incentive auction staff leading the way. At stake is significant co- and adjacent channel interference that affects broadcast and wireless operations and arises under most variable band plans. The problem in the most basic terms is this: If Market A (e.g., New York) clears less spectrum than adjacent Market B (e.g., Philadelphia) and therefore Market A continues to have broadcast operations on channel X (e.g., channel 46) while Market B moves to wireless operations on that same channel, the wireless and broadcast operations on that shared channel will interfere with one another. There is no doubt this is a serious issue. And even though the Wireless Bureau dismissed the problem without any analysis (in a nonsensical footnote in its Public Notice), following the bureau’s Public Notice, AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Qualcomm, Ericsson and others have joined in to second the notion that further work on the subject is required.

We understand why variability could be of great benefit to the Commission’s auction designers at Stanford, but its potential positives do not necessitate that we should turn a blind eye to inconvenient engineering realities. As we’ve learned from a number of interference missteps in the not-so-distant past, including the frustration on the part of the wireless industry with the interference between channel 51 and the 700 MHz A block, even if you look the other way and pretend there’s nothing to see, interference will come back to bite you where it counts one way or another.

Even though we’ve identified a serious concern, we are not arguing that we are at the end of the variability road. We are merely stating that we’ve identified a potentially fundamental problem and, at the very least, this must be the beginning of the road. It’s not enough to say, as the blog post did, that “[b]y implementing a band plan that supports variation between markets, we would not be forced to limit the auction to the amount of spectrum available in the least cleared markets.” While true, that completely neglects the question precedent of whether, from an engineering perspective, variability is possible or even wise.

Once again, rather than cross our fingers and simply hope that we don’t end up on the wrong end of an uninformed and therefore arbitrary decision, we’ve actively engaged with stakeholders across industries on the issue. We’ve laid out everything we know about co- and adjacent channel interference, not only in filings at the FCC, but in data we’ve openly shared throughout the commercial wireless and unlicensed industries.  We have one aim: to figure this issue out, one way or another, so that the Commission can truly have a successful and timely auction.

We have also laid out an alternative plan should the interference inherent in variability not be worth its benefits. Our nationwide non-variable plan incorporates three relatively easy steps:

  • After setting a spectrum acquisition target (e.g., 84 MHz), lay out the various nationwide repacking scenarios to determine in what areas the Commission must have volunteers and how many it needs.
  • Determine how much revenue will likely be raised from a forward auction from the target amount of nationwide spectrum.
  • Use those anticipated (and soon to be realized) funds to pay broadcasters in areas where the spectrum is actually needed, and repack broadcasters to the nationwide spectrum target in markets where no volunteers are needed.

This proposal helps the Commission maximize its use of the information it has up front – where it will, and will not, need participants under various scenarios – and then focus its financial incentive efforts on the areas where volunteers are truly needed. If this is done correctly, we believe the Commission can develop a great wireless band plan that clears the same robust amount in every market (international coordination notwithstanding), and leads to a harmonious balance between broadcasters and wireless operations in the new 600 MHz band. Furthermore, it eliminates the co- and adjacent channel interference threat that looms large under most variable scenarios.

We remain committed to driving a process that is best for the public interest and thankfully the Acting Chair and Commissioners have each made clear that they recognize the need for engagement and balance among industries. By engaging with all stakeholders, we’ve been able to find large areas of general consensus on a number of issues, which should help the Commission move expeditiously in this process. We will continue this push, all with the aim of creating a band plan and auction that serves free, over-the-air broadcast viewers as well as licensed and unlicensed consumers, otherwise known as the public interest.

June 25, 2013 at 10:28 am Leave a comment

Mobile TV is Put to the Test this Hurricane Season

Mobile TV has been highlighted heavily on The Future of TV Blog, and Dyle TV is one of the companies leading the way in this broadcast innovation. Not only does this technology bring viewers their favorite broadcast content wherever they are, it is also proving to be a useful tool for local radio and TV stations to deliver lifesaving information to their communities.

Last week, Dyle TV announced a partnership with the National Association of Broadcasters and Florida Association of Broadcasters in a pilot program designed to give first responders access to critical information during this year’s hurricane season. As part of this program, Florida’s State Emergency Response Team (SERT) were given mobile TV receivers before June 1 – the beginning of hurricane season.

During times of crisis, it’s extremely common for cell towers to go down, making local, over-the-air television and radio the only way people can receive lifesaving information. It is the hope that by making mobile TV receivers available to first informers, they will be able to share updates before, during and after a disaster immediately to consumers.

Miami’s local broadcast station, WFLX, covered this new program for their viewers; the clip can be viewed here.

June 6, 2013 at 12:07 pm Leave a comment

Working Toward an Effective Band Plan

Today AT&T, the National Association of Broadcasters and Verizon jointly posted the following blog:

 

The TV broadcast spectrum incentive auction proceeding raises some of the most difficult engineering challenges the FCC has ever faced. One thing is clear:  a successful auction must start with an effective band plan. A band plan must seek to mitigate interference challenges to the greatest extent possible while offering blocks of spectrum best suited for deployment by U.S. wireless carriers. Otherwise, it will drive down the value of the spectrum and likely undermine the auction’s success.

With that in mind, broadcasters, wireless carriers and equipment manufacturers have spent an enormous amount of time, energy and expense reviewing and commenting on the optimal framework for the 600 MHz band. Hundreds of pages of comments have been filed, two industry consensus letters have been submitted and the FCC just recently convened a day-long workshop to discuss this issue. The result is growing consensus for adoption of a “down from 51” framework that seeks to maximize paired allocations and build guard bands only to meet engineering necessity. This approach reflects the best collective engineering judgment of the companies most affected by the auction, including those that will spend billions of dollars to purchase 600 MHz licenses at auction and billions more to develop and deploy the spectrum in U.S. wireless networks.

Despite these significant advances, on Chairman Julius Genachowski’s last day, a Public Notice was released seeking comment on two alternative band plan frameworks, one reversing the uplink and downlink allocations and one featuring time division duplex (TDD). The first has absolutely no support in the record and the second adopts a technological approach contrary to the one proposed by the majority of U.S. carriers. A fair reading of the Public Notice suggests that the FCC feels the consensus approach constrains its ability to adjust the band plan to meet market-by-market variations. We believe, however, that this notice will consume resources better spent on dealing with other critical and as-yet-unanswered questions in this proceeding, such as how co-channel interference concerns could undermine the variability of any band plan and how the FCC plans to conduct an effective re-packing.

Each of us of course will respond to the notice, but we don’t anticipate any fundamental shift in positions we’ve already taken in the record. In the meantime, we are concerned about the apparent disconnect between the FCC and the various industries that will be critically affected by this auction. Nothing about this auction will be easy, and, if we are to succeed, we must all work together to find solutions best designed to respond to broadcast industry concerns while meeting wireless industry requirements. 

 

May 21, 2013 at 8:48 am 1 comment

Spectrum Update

The Future of TV Blog has been actively covering the latest developments on the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) incentive auction process, providing television viewers with information they need to know.

This week, the National Association of Broadcasters filed its second set of comments in response to the FCC’s notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on the spectrum incentive auctions that was released last fall. The principle theme of these comments is that the auction must be based more on sound engineering principles rather than economic theories.

Here are some highlights from NAB’s comments:

  • Repacking broadcast stations simply to maximize spectrum recovery could do permanent damage to local TV service – especially in western states that rely heavily on translators.
  • Moving forward with the FCC’s proposed  band plan would cause serious interference problems for stations, wireless companies and viewers.
  • Free, over-the-air television is a lifeline for millions of Americans. These viewers include traditionally underserved communities – people of color, foreign language speakers and lower income Americans. They stand to lose the most if the Commission repacks too aggressively.
  • Protecting television viewers should be of paramount importance. There are still few details from the FCC about how the repacking process will be conducted. NAB urges  a transparent process that preserves viewers’ access to the local television stations on which they rely.

The National Association of Broadcasters’ executive vice president of Strategic Planning, Rick Kaplan, broadcasters’ foremost expert and advocate on the upcoming broadcast spectrum auctions, addressed some of the concerns raised in these points in an earlier blog that focused on 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.

Rest assured, we’ll continue to keep you updated on this issue. TV stations will continue to work closely with the FCC to ensure that the spectrum auction process follows the intent of Congress and that free, local television remains an indispensable service for the American people.

Continue reading the future of TV blog for all the latest updates on this issue and others that impact free, local broadcast TV.

March 13, 2013 at 9:40 am Leave a comment


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