NAB on Incentive Auctions: No 'Win' for Broadcasters Who Remain

Rick Kaplan, executive VP of strategic planning for the National Association of Broadcasters, plans to tell Congress that there are three things that will determine whether the incentive auctions succeed: 1) maximizing revenue; 2) preserving a healthy broadcast business; and 3) "avoiding harmful interference among services." But even if it does all those things, NAB does not see the auctions as a win for broadcasters.

That is according to Kaplan's testimony for a July 23 spectrum policy oversight hearing on the incentive auctions in the House Communications Subcommittee.

Kaplan said that maximizing revenue in order to "pay for [the auction] itself, provide compensation for the volunteering broadcasters, pay to relocate the non-volunteer broadcasters and invest in a nationwide interoperable public safety network" means pairing spectrum nationwide, not adopting a variable band plan that could have it "gobbling up" more spectrum in some markets "simply because it can." NAB also said it means a "measured repacking" of stations that minimized the impact on translators and low-powers. "Every megahertz reclaimed through repacking, especially in the West, threatens to eliminate television service to thousands of viewers who rely exclusively on translators [and low powers] for news, weather and emergency information." He said that is particularly true in tribal areas.

Neither low powers or translators are protected in the legislation establishing act. That legislation directed the FCC to preserve the coverage areas of full-power TV stations and protect them from interference.  It also means effectively coordinating border issues with Canada and Mexico or risk leaving billions of dollars on the table.

NAB has repeatedly said its goal was a successful auction, but Kaplan said there would be no outright win for broadcasters. "Some have described the auction as a win-win-win, the final win being for the broadcast industry. Frankly, NAB does not see a 'win' for broadcasters who remain on the air and nothing in the incentive auction Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) suggests there is one to be had. At this point, we would settle for a win-win-tie."

Insuring that "tie" would include full compensation for all "reasonable" moving expenses and FCC efforts to protect coverage areas for what NAB says is the now nearly 60 million-and-growing population that relies on over-the-air TV.

He said NAB has serious concerns that the FCC will do that given its moves to modify the calculation of coverage areas and freeze applications to modify service areas.

As to achieving number three on Kaplan's list -- protection from interference -- that means the FCC needs to address now the hard questions surrounding its proposed variable band plan, which allows broadcast and wireless operators to use the same or adjacent channels in different markets. "No matter how much money the auction raises, if it ultimately results in millions of consumers -- whether wireless or broadcast -- experiencing difficulty receiving the signals that power their devices, the auction will be a failure," Kaplan said.

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.