Big Four Affiliates Challenge Parts of Incentive Auction

It turns out that while the National Association of Broadcasters and Sinclair went straight to court to challenge the FCC's may broadcast incentive auction framework, noncommercial broadcasters and the Expanding Opportunities for Broadcaster Coalition (EOBC) had plenty of company in their efforts to get the FCC to reconsider portions of the order, including most commercial TV stations.

According to a copy of the filing, the respective Big Four network affiliate associations all asked the FCC to revise the auction framework before it holds the auction — now sometime in early 2016 — saying that, if left uncorrected, it would hurt stations and the public.

According to a copy of the petitio — -responses to which are due next week — the ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC affiliate associations have bones to pick with the repacking and reimbursement parts of the order. Most are things they had asked for but were not in the order when it was released in May. The petition described them as "limited" asks, but they were big ones.

Those include not repacking any more stations than can be compensated with the $1.75 billion fund Congress has set aside for moving expenses; allow for reimbursement of expenses of stations not moving but related to the move. "Congress did not intend for television stations to subsidize the costs of reallocating spectrum to other wireless uses," they said, pointedly, in their petition. And if the FCC does not treat that $1.75 as a budget, it should require winning wireless bidders to make up the difference.

They also want the FCC to reconsider some of the hard deadlines for applications, construction and transition; complete international spectrum coordination with Canada and Mexico before the auction, consider bagging the variable band plan and going with the national plan broadcasters advocated, rethink "rigid" broadcaster consumer education requirements about new channel assignments — they argue stations will have plenty of marketplace incentive to let viewers know where they are, and rethink its use of the TVStudy software in calculating TV station interference and coverage areas.

The TVStudy is NAB's main beef with the auction as well. EOBC also has issues, but believes they can be resolved fairly easily and has asked the FCC, nicely, to do so.

"The auction and repacking process might not be 'win-win-win' for all affected parties," the affiliates told the FCC, "but it need not be a 'win-lose' proposition. The Spectrum Act simply requires that stations choosing not to participate in the forward auction be held harmless: they should not be forced to absorb costs in order to help wireless companies obtain more spectrum, and they should have sufficient time to construct new facilities that replicate current footprints. Reconsideration of the Order as described above will permit a successful and fair outcome for all parties and for consumers, as Congress intended."

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.