NAB: FCC Trying to Put Lipstick on Repacking Pig

In a filing Wednesday, the National Association of Broadcasters told the FCC there are three "threshold" issues the commission must address as it considers petitions to reconsider its May broadcast incentive auction framework.

NAB did not file a petition, instead going directly to court with its challenge. But affiliate associations, broadcast groups and the Radio-Television Digital News Association did file petitions, and NAB used the opportunity to comment on the petitions to make its voice heard.

NAB said the three big problems with the order are:

1, "The Commission currently is taking no upfront steps – literally not one – to ensure that it does not repack more stations than it can reimburse. In fact, the FCC’s repacking simulations show an average of more than 1300 stations being repacked to clear 84 MHz of spectrum. By any calculation, that means that broadcasters will easily deplete the $1.75 billion fund established by Congress." NAB says it will probably cost more like $2.6 billion to repack that many stations that 84. And the FCC has targeted as much as 120 MHz for reclamation, though that is an outside estimate not likely a realistic one. Partial reimbursement won't cut it, he says.

2. While the incentive auction legislation is meant to insure that those who receive a station before the auction should still get it after the auction, says NAB, "The Report and Order, however, adopts a number of approaches that will guarantee that many viewers will no longer receive stations that remain on the air in their local communities. The order attempts to dress this harm up by adorning it with technical language and concepts – wrapping itself in notions of terrain loss and losses due to interference – but ultimately these machinations unfortunately amount to lipstick on a pig." That pig is the TVStudy methodology for calculating coverage areas and interference that NAB has challenged in court.

3. The FCC's hard deadline of 39 months for repacked stations to exit their previous channel is a "punitive" hard line. "That means that station must go dark or miraculously find another temporary facility," NAB says. "The Commission did not allow for any deviations from this deadline. So, for example, if the fault was not a station’s, but the Commission’s or even due to a natural disaster, the station must still go off the air."

NAB also said the FCC should reconsider allowing unlicensed devices to share the duplex gap spectrum with wireless mic users. RTDNA asked the FCC to reconsider that, saying sharing could cause interference to newsgathering, particularly in emergencies.

NAB said the FCC still has time to get the auction right, but not without changing the above, and more.

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.