Posts tagged ‘spectrum auctions’

FCC’s Spectrum Auction Framework Could Harm TV Viewers and Stations Across the Country

On May 15, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted on an order to establish a framework for broadcast spectrum incentive auctions. Unfortunately, the framework includes rules that could harm television viewers and local businesses. FCC Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly dissented from the vote for a variety of reasons and the National Association of Broadcasters, which represents TV stations across the country, expressed disappointment in the order after it was adopted.

Some of the top concerns for broadcasters and their viewers include:

  • Viewer access to local TV channels. “OET-69” sounds like something from outer space, but it has an important purpose on planet Earth – it’s the name of the method that has been used to figure out what areas and viewers are covered by a local broadcast station’s over-the-air signal. Though the Spectrum Act passed by Congress required the FCC to use this method to determine coverage, the FCC wants to use a different system, which means many viewers could lose their favorite local channels.
  • Local breaking news coverage. Local news organizations, especially television and radio broadcasters, cover urgent, on-the-scene breaking news to keep their viewers and listeners safe. The FCC wants to limit the amount of spectrum available for the equipment needed to report live and remotely, which could keep TV viewers from hearing important news just when they need it most.
  • Imposing large costs on local stations. After the spectrum auction, many broadcasters – even some who chose not to participate – will be involved in a process called “repacking.” Local TV stations will be forced to move into different channels to free larger blocks of spectrum for wireless carriers. This process could impose large costs on affected broadcasters that would not be covered by the government, draining vital funds from stations and impacting local economies.

There are other significant problems with the order, including making the auction process needlessly complicated and failing to address important concerns for rural viewers and viewers who live near the Canada and Mexico borders.

When Congress authorized the spectrum auction, it established boundaries that clearly intended to protect broadcast TV viewers from harm. In passing this order, the FCC has failed to honor Congress’ intent. 

May 27, 2014 at 11:58 am 3 comments

Representing Broadcasters and True Incentive Auction Success

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

At last week’s Senate Commerce Committee hearing on “Crafting a Successful Incentive Auction,” the executive director of the Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition (EOBC) sounded the alarm that the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) upcoming incentive auction was on the path to complete failure. The reason? The FCC is allegedly not moving fast enough to inform broadcasters exactly how much money the agency plans on shelling out for their spectrum licenses and that the agency may be considering reverse auction rules that approximate the actual value of spectrum licenses. He concluded that anything that gets in the way of paying broadcasters handsomely for their spectrum licenses is going to lead to auction catastrophe.

Let me ease your minds: There is no cause for alarm. The sky is not falling. Broadcasters are patient, digesting what emerges from the FCC and recognize that this is a long, complex process.

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), along with the Association of Public Television Stations (APTS), represents the true interests of all broadcasters. Our aim is to serve America’s local broadcasters and to expand their opportunities in the 21st century, whatever they might be. We have members who will continue broadcasting for decades to come and others that may look to the incentive auction as an opportunity to exit the business after a long history of serving their communities.

The EOBC, while apparently made up of companies that hold licenses in the broadcast band (its membership list is a closely guarded secret), does not represent broadcasters. In many respects, this group seems to stand in stark contrast to what is in the best interests of broadcasters and broadcasting. Its mission is singular: to capitalize on regulatory arbitrage. Its aim is to make sure that its members are paid as much money as possible and paid as quickly as possible for their spectrum licenses. 

While there is nothing wrong with having one’s own interests at heart, we must take the comments of this coalition in that context. This context explains why, as opposed to NAB, APTS, as well as the representatives of wireless companies and associations, cable companies and associations and public interest groups, the EOBC is not concerned with the resulting 600 MHz band plan, how international coordination impacts the future of television, interoperability, co-channel interference, or any other issue beyond how much they get paid and how quickly. The day their checks are cashed, their engagement in this auction ends; the EOBC has no interest in the subsequent repacking or consumer welfare.

The FCC staff is working hard to solve dozens of challenges in this extremely complicated auction. The agency is not close – nor should it be at this point – to determining starting prices in markets or even to confirming which markets are eligible for auction. These are very difficult questions among many others that need to be sorted out over time.

If done right, the FCC will make it as easy as possible for willing broadcasters to participate in the auction. In practice, this means ensuring that broadcasters understand the rules of the road and that their participation does not require an army of economists or mathematicians. There should be low barriers to entry. The process will take time, and in all likelihood will require the cooperation of those such as NAB and APTS, that truly represent broadcasters. These broadcast advocates want to weigh the potential benefits of participation, not just quick-hit investors looking to turn a quick profit because of the government’s unique offer to buy back licenses.

NAB has been engaged with the FCC to ensure the auction’s success and viewer protection from start to finish. Success for us includes, but goes far beyond, those looking to profit on their licenses. So, when Congress, the FCC and the public ask where broadcasters stand, and how can we ensure success for the auction – both for participants and non-participants – they should look to NAB and APTS. These associations represent America’s television broadcasters – not just companies that happen to hold licenses – and are focused on both the short- and long-term success of the industry. 

December 16, 2013 at 12:49 pm Leave a comment

FCC Announces New Timeline for Spectrum Auctions

The Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Tom Wheeler, published a blog post last week announcing changes to the FCC’s planned timeline for broadcast spectrum incentive auctions. Originally planned for the beginning of 2014, the auctions are now targeted for mid-2015. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) appreciates this more realistic schedule, which gives the FCC more time to ensure that viewers aren’t needlessly harmed by hasty changes to our communications infrastructure.

In his testimony during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on spectrum this week, the National Association of Broadcasters’ spectrum expert Rick Kaplan, noted that an “unduly rushed” process could threaten the success of the auction.

Kaplan raised several essential components in crafting a successful auction. Among them, he urged the FCC to “make all reasonable efforts to preserve non-auction participants’ coverage areas and populations served.” Post-auction, television stations that choose to remain on the air will go through a process called “repacking,” in which stations may have to move channels to create large blocks of spectrum. TV viewers should not lose access to channels that remain on the air as a result of a poorly managed repacking process. Kaplan added that a successful auction includes developing a good long-term plan that ensures rural and minority viewers do not lose free TV service.

Avoiding harm to viewers is a top priority for broadcasters and the millions of viewers who rely on broadcast television. Broadcast stations provide America’s favorite sports and entertainment programming – including more than 90 of the 100 highest-rated television shows – but that’s just the beginning. Stations have an unparalleled commitment to serving in communities across the country, providing life-saving emergency information, local news and meaningful public service.

Broadcasters have maintained from the beginning of the broadcast spectrum incentive auction process that the most important goal is getting the auction done right, not merely as quickly as possible. This new, more realistic timeline is a victory for viewers across the country.

December 11, 2013 at 2:55 pm Leave a comment

NAB’s Kaplan: Four Steps to a Successful Spectrum Auction

The upcoming spectrum incentive auctions have been a closely monitored issue on this blog, and it was the topic of a recent speech given by NAB’s Executive Vice President of Strategic Planning Rick Kaplan, one of the top experts on spectrum policy. Earlier this week, Kaplan spoke at the Media Institute’s Communications Forum luncheon, focusing on key issues that need to be addressed before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) moves forward with the auction.

Kaplan reaffirmed that broadcasters’ goal is to see the spectrum auction done right and with minimal impact on TV viewers so that stations can get on with the business of serving their local communities in traditional and innovative ways.

The FCC’s proposed spectrum incentive auction is the first of its kind, in which the government will offer some number of TV stations money in exchange for their spectrum (airwaves) licenses. In a process known as “repacking,” the TV stations that remain (those that do not want to go out of business) may be shuffled around by the FCC, as the government tries to free up large chunks of contiguous spectrum (airwaves) for wireless companies to use. This very complex process is what concerns TV broadcasters and viewers most. If not executed properly by the government, many TV viewers could be impacted and some will lose their free, local TV service.

In his speech, Kaplan noted the complex task that lies before the FCC, and pointed out some tough economic, engineering and policy questions that need to be addressed, such as:

  • How will the FCC attract volunteers (stations that will turn in their spectrum licenses) and determine how much to pay them?
  • How can we efficiently and effectively coordinate with Canada and Mexico (where U.S. airwaves overlap) to ensure that TV viewers in border states are not harmed?
  • How is the FCC going to reimburse stations that are forced to move in the repacking phase and do so within their budget and the tight timeframe following the auction?

These questions are just a few that must be addressed by the FCC. If not carefully thought out and properly implemented, the spectrum auction will fail either because there will not be enough volunteers to give up spectrum or because the outcome of the auction could result in widespread harmful interference among both television and wireless services.

Kaplan also discussed some of the very challenging engineering questions the agency has yet to address. Most pressing is the FCC’s proposal to take different amounts of spectrum from TV broadcasters in different markets. Kaplan explained why this would lead to massive interference between broadcasters and wireless companies, potentially undermining the entire auction and leaving viewers in the dark.

To avoid this, Kaplan proposed four basic steps to maximize the likelihood of achieving useable and worthwhile nationwide bands of spectrum (airwaves) for the wireless industry:

  • First, the FCC should lay out a number of nationwide repacking scenarios explaining how they could shuffle TV stations following the auction. This involves looking at a variety of options and focusing in particular on the more congested television markets.
  • Second, from these scenarios the FCC can determine how many stations it needs to participate in the auction to achieve certain spectrum targets, and where those stations must be.
  • Third, the FCC should estimate how much revenue it would, under each scenario, raise nationwide in a spectrum auction.
  • And finally, the FCC should take its nationwide estimate and use those funds to ensure it entices volunteers in the markets where it really requires participants.

Kaplan ended his remarks by urging the FCC to work closely with all stakeholders in the auction process. To read Kaplan’s remarks in their entirety, please click here.

Broadcasters’ number one concern is for our TV viewers and ensuring that stations can continue to provide services – both traditional and new, such as mobile TV – for those who rely on free, local television.

March 22, 2013 at 9:21 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

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.

February 26, 2013 at 2:43 pm 1 comment

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