NAB to FCC: Don't Force Us to Underserve Viewers

The National Association of Broadcasters has told the FCC it is "a fiction" that its "arbitrary" 39-month deadline for repacking TV stations after the incentive auction is achievable and warns it not to compel TV stations to provide diminished coverage in service of that deadline.

That came in comments on the FCC proposed reporting form for stations being moved into smaller spectrum quarters after the auction, which is in its final stages.

NAB has also asked the FCC to allow for more finessed answers on that form, which it is requiring TV stations to use to update the FCC on their progress in the upcoming post incentive-auction repack.

Without that flexibility, broadcasters suggest, the FCC may actually wind up being misled about the progress of the transition.

In comments on the form submitted to the FCC Thursday, NAB said it was generally OK with the substance of the form's questions, except with the one asking whether a station had completed testing on an auxiliary antenna "such that it may cease broadcasting on its pre-auction channel."

NAB does not like the supposition. "Auxiliary antenna systems will play a critical role during the repack by allowing stations to stay on the air for a period of days or weeks as they switch from permanent facilities on their pre-auction channel to permanent facilities on their post-auction channel," NAB said. "However, a station’s completion of construction of its auxiliary antenna system in no way means that the station is ready to cease operation on its pre-auction channels."

That is because "if a station has completed its auxiliary antenna system, but construction of its new permanent facilities are delayed by factors outside the station’s control, proposed Question 10(d) suggests that a station may be forced to operate with significantly diminished coverage, resulting in loss of service to viewers, for an indefinite period of time until its permanent facilities are completed."

It says that would contravene the spectrum auction legislation's requirement that the FCC make all reasonable efforts to preserve the coverage area and population served of stations being repacked. "Further, forcing stations to reduce service indefinitely during repacking would be profoundly unfair to both broadcasters and their viewers."

NAB says the commission "must not seek to compel broadcasters to operate with significantly diminished facilities solely to maintain the fiction that its arbitrary 39-month deadline for the completion of repacking is achievable."

NAB also said that while it was OK with the substance of most questions, many of them were not susceptible to yes or no answers. "Virtually every question on the proposed form may be subject to uncertainty," it said.

"Forcing licensees to guess in response to such questions places them in the uncomfortable position of potentially providing inaccurate information to the Commission and, just as importantly, may mislead the Commission and stakeholders as to the pace and progress of the transition."

The FCC's Media Bureau tentatively concluded that both stations being reimbursed for moving expenses after the spectrum auction and those who will not be reimbursed but will be moving anyway should file periodic progress reports with the commission.

NAB said it supports that conclusion given that they will all be drawing on the same resources—tower crews, consultants—as reimbursable stations.

The FCC is asking TV stations to file reports quarterly, as well as 10 weeks before their construction deadline. NAB says that quarterly frequency is burdensome and instead is suggesting it be every six months, supplemented when there is a "major milestone" or a material change in a previous answer.

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.