NAB: Forced Spectrum March Would Be Illegal

The National Association of Broadcasters last week continued to press the FCC not to set a hard 39-month deadline for all stations to move to new channels after the post-incentive auction repack, saying it would be illegal to force them off due to circumstances beyond their control.

That came as the FCC circulated an order denying various proposals to reconsider that framework, including one by the Big Four broadcast network affiliate associations (they took the lead on the issue at the FCC while NAB sued parts of the auction in federal court) challenging the deadline and saying it "cannot be squared with the Spectrum Act’s mandate to make all reasonable efforts to protect stations’ coverage areas and populations served."

In a meeting with top FCC officials, NAB executive VP and general counsel Rick Kaplan and other NAB execs also pressed their other main point, which is that treating the statutory $1.75 billion in moving expenses as a hard cap rather than a budget will have "a significant effect on broadcasters’ ability to relocate to their new channel assignments."

According to an FCC filing outlining the meeting, NAB is arguing that the FCC should plan to clear no more spectrum than it can clear while fully compensating broadcasters for the move.

"NAB and its members are committed to completing the repacking process as quickly as possible," NAB told top staffers in the Incentive Auction Task Force, Media Bureau, Office of Engineering and Technology and General Counsel's Office. "The Commission should not – and cannot, lawfully – force any station off the air due to delays outside that station’s control."

NAB has pivoted away from pushing back on its "not rushing the auction" approach after some major members—Fox and Ion among them—signaled they would be players under the right conditions.

The Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition, which is focused on getting the right rules and framework for stations interested in giving up spectrum for the right price, has a slightly different take on the issue, pointing out the extension could lower that price.

"EOBC includes members whose stations will be repacked," the group said in response to the FCC filing. "We would support individual waiver relief for a station that finds itself genuinely unable to complete its channel relocation at the end of the 39 months. But it is way premature to consider a wholesale extension of the 39-month transition period that would devalue the spectrum the FCC will auction to carriers. Instead the FCC should get on with the auction, do its best to minimize the number of stations that are repacked (as the FCC has promised to do) and later consider the needs of any individual station that is nearing the 39 month deadline and has been unable to complete its move."

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.