Skip to main content

NAB Lays Into FCC Over Spectrum

The National Association of Broadcasters has, proverbially speaking, had it up to here. Last week, as legislators pushed for incentive auction action meant to clear up to 120 MHz of spectrum for wireless broadband, the NAB took off the gloves.

That flurry of activity inspiring the action included standalone Senate and House bills in various stages of the process, and a version that had been proposed as part of a debt-ceiling bill.

NAB said the FCC’s spectrum plan would devastate the industry and that the commission was withholding info on the impact of repacking stations that Congress should have before making any decision. A representative for a defensive FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski suggested NAB was using scare tactics and told it to, effectively, get with the program for its own sake as well as wireless broadband’s.

Gordon Smith, NAB president, assembled reporters for a briefing at the association’s headquarters, where he and other NAB executives used terms like “threaten and devastate” to describe the FCC plan.

Smith argued that the modeling that shows the impact of involuntary channel moves and repacking of the stations that do not sell out has been “withheld” from broadcasters by the FCC. “We’re not getting it and we are asking for it,” Smith said.

NAB has long maintained it does not oppose incentive auctions, which would compensate broadcasters that want to give up spectrum for re-auctioning. But at the same time, NAB has been making the point that broadcasters have a lot to live for, as it were, including mobile DTV and multicasting and even a one-tomany delivery model for broadband at peak load times.

Bruce Franca, NAB science and technology VP, told reporters that the FCC’s plan would have a devastating impact on mobile DTV, a point seconded by Smith, who said that looking at the “facts and physics,” mobile becomes “next to impossible” under the plan.

Broadcasters want the government to replicate their coverage areas, cover their costs of moving and leave them with enough spectrum and flexibility to compete. The argument isn’t new, but what was new last week was a sense of urgency and the suggestion that, as the FCC plan now stands, broadcasters can’t get there from here.

“NAB’s study misses the fact that an incentive auction will be market-driven and voluntary,” said an FCC staffer who requested anonymity. “Our proposal will not shut down hundreds of stations; it will open up massive innovation and investment. Rather than engage in scare tactics, we urge NAB to work with us to achieve our shared legislative objectives to maintain a strong over-the-air broadcasting service.”

“I don’t think it is scare tactics to ask for as much information as we can possibly get about a proposal that could impact TV viewing for tens of millions of Americans,” said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton.

Clearly, when it comes to spectrum, the two sides are not on the same wavelength.

E-mail comments to and follow him on Twitter: @eggerton