What Rough Beast...

The National Association of Broadcasters spectrum auction point person Rick Kaplan did some praising with faint, and not so faint, damns in a blog post Tuesday marking the March 29 (6 p.m.) spectrum incentive auction launch.

That is the date by which stations have to commit to give up spectrum...or not.

NAB has had big policy issues with the FCC initiative from the outset, particularly the definite sense that the FCC was pushing them toward the tar pits, and continues to have them as it pushes for protecting the broadcasters that will remain in the business while balancing that with the wishes of members who will be participating in the auction and looking for a successful payday in one form or another.

In the blog post, Kaplan, EVP regulatory and legal affairs and former Wireless Bureau Chief at the FCC, praised FCC staffers, but suggested they had been "grappling in earnest" with a "brave and untested" auction approach "dreamed up" by economists and engineers. (Oh Brave New World that has this Caliban of an auction in it.)

The piece was titled 'It Begins," but had more of Yeats' "What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born" sense of beginning than, say, of a grand adventure with milk and honey on the other side.

Amongst the praise for staff and credit to former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and current Chairman Tom Wheeler and the commissioners for, well, being themselves, the not so-subtext was that it was all a bit of a crapshoot--"what happens next is anyone's guess," said Kaplan, looking to make his point (and hoping the auction bet doesn't come up snake eyes).

Then there was the damage that the auction would definitely do. "We must also recognize that the auction will harm low power television and translator services," Kaplan wrote. "This will affect many viewers across the country who rely on those services for critical public safety news and information," Kaplan said. (Other than that, how was the auction, Mr. Wheeler?*).

Google says NAB is blowing smoke, but where there is smoke...

The FCC has indeed begun a voyage of discovery, but whether there be gold or dragons or both, is, well, anybody's guess .

*A variant on one of my father's favorite sayings: "Other than that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.