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Affilate Heads Fill in Hill on Spectrum ‘Essentials'

The heads of the Big Four Network Affiliate associations have given Congress a list of "essential safeguards" that should be in any spectrum incentive auctions legislation, which is teed up in both the House and Senate.  The FCC and White House want to auction reclaimed broadcast spectrum to provide more spectrum real estate for wireless broadband.

In a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) and minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the affiliate chiefs said that repacking stations to make room for wireless broadband is involuntary, and while they do not oppose involuntary incentive auctions, the involuntary part must be mitigated, and broadcasters "held harmless," the new lobbying term of art, by the following four provisions in any legislation:

1. the FCC should be required to replicate the existing service area and interference protections for any station repacked as part of the process.
2. Broadcasters should not be moved involuntarily to an inferior band--specifically VHF and particularly low VHF--which could preclude new digital services. (FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has said there will be no forced moves from UHF to VHF).
3. the FCC should be permitted to conduct only one incentive auction of broadcast spectrum.
4. Broadcasters should be reimbursed for any costs incurred in the move, both by stations moving and those affected by the moves.

The Senate version of an incentive auction bill, which is awaiting a floor vote, would charge the FCC with doing its best to replicate coverage and interference protections, but does not condition incentive authority on achieving those ends. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D- W. Va.), the bill's sponsor and prime mover, wants it approved by both the Senate and House and on the President's desk by Sept. 11. That is because part of the incentive auction proceeds would go to building an interoperable broadband emergency communications network, one of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission following the communications deficits during 9/11 that cost lives.

According to the National Association of Broadcasters, a copy of the letter is being sent to all House members Friday.