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NAB: FCC's Proposed Changes to TV Station Coverage Model May Violate Law

The National Association of Broadcasters has asked the FCC
to back off changing its method of calculating TV station coverage areas and
interference protections, at least for now, saying the timing of that
initiative could undermine the incentive auctions and at least some of the
proposals may violate the incentive auction law.

That is according to an FCC filing detailing meetings
between top NAB officials, including incentive auction point person Rick Kaplan,
and FCC officials Thursday.

On Feb. 4, the FCC quietly released a proposed update to
computer modeling (OET Bulletin 69), which the FCC uses to determine TV station
coverage areas and interference potential. It was less quiet after TV Technology scribe Deborah McAdams,
then B&C, reportedon the document, which is used to help figure out how stations will fit in
the reconstituted spectrum band after the auction.

The incentive auction legislation instructs the FCC to make
its best effort to replicate coverage and interference protections. That
information will be important when the FCC has to repack stations after the
incentive auctions, as well as in determining access to in-market and
out-of-market stations for satellite carriers. That is an issue that will arise
in the reauthorization of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act
at the end of next year, which Congress will start to look at in a House
Communications Subcommittee hearing next week.

One big proposed change to the Longley-Rice signal
propagation model (how TV and radio signals travel) is that it would now be based
on 2010 census data rather than 1990 census data, which means it reflects a 24%
population jump and different population distribution. The FCC also asks
whether it should continue to give the benefit of the doubt to coverage or
interference findings flagged by the model as "dubious."

In the meetings, NAB said using the new data that would
result in greater protected areas for some, and smaller for others would
"create instability in the process that can only serve to undermine the
auction that NAB and other industry players are working extremely hard to make
work as Congress intended."

It also said those changes may violate the incentive auction
legislation, which, says the FCC, will make its best efforts to preserve
"the coverage area and population served of each broadcast television
licensee, as determined using the methodology described in OET Bulletin 69 of
the Office of Engineering and Technology of the Commission."

NAB says that clearly means the bulletin as it existed at
the time of the legislation's enactment.

Some auction backers warned early on that the more specific
the incentive auction language was, the more opportunity there could be for
legal challenges that could hold up the auction.

NAB also suggests the decision to modify the model should
come from the commissioners, not the Office of Engineering and Technology, and
only in a formal notice-and-comment proceeding.  According to the filing,
NAB said it supports reviewing Bulletin 69, but that to do so now, and in the
way the FCC has proposed, "could invite unnecessary delay into the process
and would cause widespread uncertainty for broadcasters who may be deciding
whether to participate in the auction and how to go about protecting their
viewers in the event they do not."

NAB also again asked the FCC to release its software for
repacking stations into new channels as soon as possible. It calls that
computer model the "engine" of the auction.