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FCC: Earful on Spectrum

Communications "condominiums" NGBT plans (no, it has nothing to do with gender preferences), and vouchers. These are only some of the proposals being offered up by broadcasters as they look to protect their spectrum turf from the FCC and the Obama administration, both of which keep eyeing it hungrily.

The end game for broadcasters, or more pointedly the “avoid-the-end” game, is to make sure they are still viable after the government frees up/reclaims spectrum for wireless broadband, which it wants to start doing ASAP, as FCC chief Julius Genachowski said last week.

On the other side are wireless companies that can’t wait to get their hands on that spectrum, and some cable operators who also want broadband breathing room.

All sides have been pitching the FCC in what turned out to be a late surge submissions to the commission’s spectrum proposal rulemaking. Here is a look at a broad spectrum of suggestions:

NGBT: Sinclair Broadcasting tells the FCC that its plans to have broadcasters share spectrum with wireless companies, share channels among themselves, and improve the VHF band are either premature or doomed. Sinclair says the FCC should separate the service from the platform. It recommends that the FCC adopt a 10-year Next Generation Broadcast Television (NGBT) plan that starts with a three-year spectrum inventory and ends with a symbiotic broadband/broadcast system, with the more efficient broadcasting system likely morphing into another, more robust platform. Not surprisingly, Sinclair, which pushed for years for a DTV standard robust enough to handle mobile DTV, says this should be a “primary service offering” in any new plan, and adds that broadcasting, not wireless broadband, is the most efficient way to deliver mobile video.

“Incredibly inefficient”: Cablevision, one of the U.S.’ largest cable operators, stresses that it’s important to cure what the company calls broadcasters’ incredibly inefficient use of spectrum to serve a “relatively small subset of the population.” Cablevision believes broadcasters should be encouraged to share channels, including commercial and noncommercial pairings. The operator would also be OK with the FCC granting must-carry to both stations in that partnership.

Communications “Condominiums”: The Minority Media & Telecommunications Council is fine with the FCC allowing broadcasters to share channels, so long as it bases it on a “condominium” rather than a renters model. MMTC says allowing minorities access to DTV subchannels is a way to promote diversity, but adds that the FCC needs to make it an asset that will help those minorities get access to capital, “by creating a relationship analogous to the relationship between a condominium building-owner and unit owner.”

T-Mobile: The future Ms. AT&T—if the deal goes down— says the FCC needs to give it coprimary rights to the broadcast band. It also says the FCC should not necessarily wait around for congressional authority to pay broadcasters to exit spectrum, saying it could consider other measures, like bidding credits or vouchers. T-Mobile says that broadcasters should also get must-carry if they agree to share channels, and that sharing does not affect those rights.

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