NAB: FCC Lowballed Population Losses in Repacking

National Association of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith and other NAB execs met with FCC Commissioners and FCC staffers to argue that the post-incentive auction population coverage losses TV stations would experience according to FCC scenarios "does not represent the true impact of repacking on broadcasters and their millions of viewers."

That is according to an ex parte notice of the Oct. 10 meetings and an accompanying presentation NAB made in those meetings in advance of Friday's planned vote on interference protections related to TV station repacking after the broadcast incentive auctions.

Specifically, the item is a Second Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking "to address aggregate broadcaster-to-broadcaster interference and the methodology for predicting interference between broadcast and wireless operations in the same or adjacent channels in nearby markets during and following the Incentive Auction."

An FCC spokesperson had no comment on the presentation or NAB's suggestion the commission's numbers were off.

NAB has argued that the methodology the FCC is using to calculate interference and population coverage is off base, and has sued the commission in court over part of its May auction order. The FCC is under a congressional mandate to make its best efforts to preserve the coverage areas and interference protections of TV station repacked after the incentive auction, but NAB and the FCC have differed on how to interpret that mandate.

Following NAB’s lawsuit, the FCC voted to "clarify" that the incentive auction framework will make all reasonable efforts to protect both the coverage areas and interference protections.

NAB wants a cap on the aggregate interference any one station can experience from others, rather than giving FCC staffers the "unconstrained" ability to make that assessment during the auction. But NAB says interference is only part of the problem.

Early on NAB proposed a hard cap of 1% on aggregate interference. The FCC did not propose doing that, and released a series of repacking scenarios in that June 2 notice showing that 99% of all stations receive interference below the 1% cap anyway, and no station had aggregate interference above 2%.

But in their pitch to FCC staffers last week, NAB said that lowballed the number of displaced viewers because the primary issue with the FCC's repacking scenarios is not interference but population loss due to repacking.

NAB said it did its own analysis of all UHF stations on repacked channels and found that population losses were far greater than the FCC estimates. For example, the FCC calculated the largest population loss under its repacking scenarios was 1.53%, while NAB said it was actually a whopping 8.49%.

NAB says the reason for the discrepancy between its running of the scenarios and the FCC's is that the FCC does not take into account the population coverage losses from channel changes. "Ultimately, repacking will result in significantly greater viewer losses than predicted by the FCC's aggregate interference analysis," says NAB.

NAB offers three alternatives to the FCC's "interference-only approach": 1) Precalculate the population of every station on every channel and determine whether it will result in over 1% population loss, then prohibit assignment of a channel resulting in over 1% loss; 2) consider aggregate interference from co- and adjacent channels, on which there is a .5% interference cap; or 3) identify population losses of more than 1% mid-auction and rearrange the channel assignments of stations within the neighborhood of any station with more than 1% interference.

NAB also says it needs the FCC to make public how it used the output from its TVStudy repacking model to generate data on what stations can coexist on what channels, as well as the repacking software itself.

The FCC is unlikely to remake its order, which could even be voted on circulation before the Friday meeting. But it could add NAB's proposals to the Further Notice portion, where seeks input on tentative proposals or issues that still need resolving.

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.