NAB: FCC Second Channel Proposal Is Illegal

The National Association of Broadcasters has told the FCC that setting aside the last available vacant channel in a market for unlicensed use, rather than for licensed TV stations (including low powers and translators) would be unwise, unsound, unwarranted, and illegal, and could deal a blow to diversity in favor of well-heeled, concentrated industries.

That came in comments Wednesday (Sept. 30) on the FCC proposal, which is meant to insure that there is enough spectrum space for unlicensed spectrum after the post-incentive auction repack.

The proposal is illegal, says NAB, because under FCC rules, unlicensed is "absolutely secondary" to licensed service.

NAB said the proposal would create three major harms:

1. Low-power TVs and translators are for the most part already not protected in the auction repack. The new proposal would force "hundreds of additional low power television and translator stations off the air.

2. Reserving a channel for unlicensed "will significantly restrict broadcaster efforts to innovate themselves in their own band," NAB said, including its potential rollout of a new transmission standard.

3. By removing another channel for TV, the FCC is "nailing shut the door for potential increased diversity in media ownership."

NAB has long argued that the incentive auction could also reduce diversity by limiting the spectrum for digital multicast channels that have become a venue for diverse programming.

NAB said it was not against unlicensed services, saying they have a critical place. "What we oppose, however, is elevating unlicensed services over licensed ones, especially when all evidence suggests that unlicensed use of white spaces has yielded almost nothing tangible for consumers," said NAB.

NAB took particular umbrage in the FCC proposal's assertion that the channel reservation would have "minimal impact on broadcast applicants."

NAB says the FCC's larger theme has been to degrade broadcasting to the benefit of "more concentrated and well-heeled industries."

The FCC is also proposing to eliminate exclusivity rules, a move NAB argues will be a thumb on the scale of a concentrated cable industry, and the impetus behind the incentive auction is that spectrum is likely more valuable in the hands of wireless broadband providers than broadcasters.

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.