EOBC: Flexible Must-Carry Is Must For Auction

The Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition Friday defended its petition for reconsideration of the FCC's May broadcast incentive auction order against opposition from cable operators.

EOBC asked the FCC to provide more must-carry flexibility for stations who agree to give up spectrum, including allowing them must-carry rights for channel sharing deals they strike up to a year after the auction, and allowing those rights to extend to subsequent, second-generation, arrangements.

Under the current FCC order, channel sharers have to apply for approval before the auction, not after.

In its opposition to that petition, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association had countered that it allowed "significant and ongoing uncertainty into an already complicated post-auction process." NCTA is not enamored with first-generation must-carry rights, so it is no surprise they are no fan of extending them. NCTA argues the changes could cause confusion to customers about channel lineups and result in unreimbursed expenses.

EOBC says that allowing the extra time and flexibility would make the auction more attractive to broadcasters, which is in the FCC's and the public's interest—EOBC represents stations potentially willing to give up spectrum at the right price. 

It says the only question for the commission is "whether the numerous policy benefits of implementing the Coalition’s proposal outweigh any minor administrative inconveniences that it might cause." And it already has the answer: "Yes."

The coalition says its proposal is not assuming any new must-carry rights, only that those rights are tied to the licensee, not the spectrum, and that even if it were tied to the spectrum, electing to share before or after it gave up that spectrum was a distinction without a difference. "In either scenario, the station has relinquished its spectrum usage rights 'in order to share a television channel' and therefore is entitled to must carry rights under the Act," it says.

The FCC wants to encourage broadcasters to share as an incentive to give up spectrum without having to give up their business. EOBC says "robust and flexible must-carry rights are the key to encouraging sharing deals."

Besides, says EOBC, MVPDs are already likely to see a net reduction in stations they have to carry. "As the FCC has recognized, 'with some stations returning spectrum rights and going off the air entirely, the net effect of the auction and repacking should be an overall reduction in the number of stations MVPDs must carry.' Thus, most MVPDs will come out ahead even if the Commission implements the flexible channel sharing rules that are necessary to foster sufficient broadcaster participation in the reverse auction."

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.