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Kaplan: FCC Needs to Get More Comment on Band Plan

NAB's Rick Kaplan said Monday that the FCC's incentive
auction will likely fail if the FCC tries to stick to a 2014 deadline or a
variable band plan for post-auction station repacking. By failure he means that
either not enough broadcasters are willing to give up spectrum to create a
nationwide wireless spectrum band plan or the result is widespread interference.

At a Media Institute Lunch in Washington on Monday, Kaplan,
former chief of the FCC's wireless bureau, reiterated NAB's criticism of the
FCC's proposed band plan, which intersperses broadcasters and wireless
operators, and what he suggested was a rushed auction timetable.

The FCC is trying to recover as much as 120 MHz from
broadcasters to re-auction, presumably to wireless companies. Kaplan suggested
if the FCC doesn't get at least 60 MHz, it won't be worth the while for
wireless companies. He also said the auction was much more important for
broadcasters since the new spectrum, even at 120 MHz represents only about a
10% gain for wireless, while it is about a third of broadcast spectrum, and
affects how they will deliver their service to consumers.

Kaplan called on the FCC to solicit new comments on the band
plan, and said he expected it would do so.

Kaplan took aim at the FCC's LEARN (Learn Everything About
Reverse-Auctions Now) educational effort.

"There is no question that a rushed auction could lead
to fewer volunteers," he said.  "Under the remarkably strained 'LEARN'
acronym (apparently 'GET OUT' didn't work or was trademarked), the Commission
has been diligently attempting to convince broadcasters that their future as
broadcasters is not as shiny as the cash the FCC plans on waiving in front of
them to exit the business, Let's face it, that money will come in handy given
the kind of resources one needs these days to pay those steep cable and
smartphone bills."

Kaplan said the biggest problem with the FCC band plan is
the variability factor. The FCC is proposing that in some markets a channel will
be used for TV, and in another for wireless.

That allows the FCC to repurpose different amounts of
spectrum in different markets. Kaplan says that won't work. "If you force
broadcasters and wireless carriers to share channels in adjacent markets, one
will interfere with the other.  It's basic engineering."

Why would the FCC's economist advisors, including a Nobel Prize
winner, come up with an unworkable plan? Kaplan says he is sure those
economists have "the purest of intentions," but are focused on the
economics rather than the technical issues. "There is a tilt toward
economics, and I fear that engineering is getting lost in the shuffle."

Kaplan says that if there is enough geographic separation
between broadcasters and wireless companies to prevent co-channel interference,
the size of the wireless license will have to be reduced -- the FCC is under
congressional mandate to preserve the coverage areas and interference
protections of TV stations in station repacking -- to the point where a large number
of the new wireless licenses would be worthless.

Perhaps knowing he might get some pushback, Kaplan told the
crowd that he was concerned that in the recent reply comments on the FCC
incentive auction framework, "no one -- and I mean no one -- addressed it
in their replies. Now, if we are wrong, that would be a tremendous

Almost as Kaplan was delivering the speech -- NAB had sent
out a text copy -- Preston Padden, whoheads up a coalition of broadcasters willing to consider selling spectrum,
fired off a response pointing out that the Expanding Opportunities for
Broadcasters Coalition did raise the issue in its reply. The coalition supports
the variable plan.

"To the extent that a variable band plan raises the
prospect of co-channel interference between nearby wireless and broadcast
operations," the coalition wrote in its reply according to Padden,
"the Commission should address this issue on a market- or regional-basis,
not by handcuffing its ability to auction the most efficient amount of spectrum

Kaplan later clarified to B&C that what he meant was that "no one offered any meaningful technical analysis demonstrating [the variable plan] works."

NAB is offering an alternative approach to the auction that
Kaplan outlined in his speech:

  • "First, the Commission should lay out a
    number of nationwide repacking scenarios. This involves looking at options for
    repacking, and focusing in particular on the moving pieces in the more
    congested markets.
  • "Second, from these scenarios the Commission can determine how many
    stations it needs to participate to achieve certain spectrum clearing targets,
    and where those stations must be.
  • "Third, the Commission should estimate how much it would, under each
    scenario, raise nationwide in a forward auction.
  • "And finally, the Commission should take its nationwide estimate and use
    those funds to ensure it entices volunteers in the markets where it really
    requires participants."