NAB’s ‘Spectrum’ of Help

The National Association of Broadcasters continues to promote the value of local TV in a broadband-centric world, but it is also pushing for better treatment from the FCC for members no matter where they fall on the incentive auction spectrum.

According to sources, NAB president Gordon Smith and some association staffers held a conference call two weeks ago with several board members seeking assurances that the NAB would be looking out for broadcasters that may want to enter the incentive auction—and those that may not.

One source said NAB signaled it would help all members. The NAB has argued that there is a bright future for broadcasters, at least so long as the FCC does not threaten that with how it conducts the auction.

Currently the NAB is suing the commission over the auction, specifically related to its method for calculating TV station coverages—a key component of how it repacks stations after the auction.

“NAB has been fully engaged from day 1 in the entire incentive auction process, with our central goal being protecting the interests of local TV stations and the millions of viewers that we serve,” NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton says. Wharton would not comment on the conference call.

“The FCC’s latest public notice is causing our members a great deal of concern, as it appears to unnecessarily complicate the reverse auction [with broadcasters offering up spectrum] while continuing to promote an unwise patchwork broadcast band plan across the country,” Wharton continues.

“Given the proposal’s disproportionately negative impact on broadcasters—including those who may seek to participate in the auction—NAB expects to weigh in with the goal of simplifying the process and increasing the likelihood for the overall auction’s ultimate success.”

The NAB has argued that the FCC should be in no rush to auction spectrum. The AWS-3 auction may have put some new meat on that bone, having raised almost $45 billion.

That surplus means the broadcast incentive auction does not need to cover the creation and operation of an emergency response broadband network or other statutory payoffs. But there remains the pressure to give up spectrum, particularly after President Obama put an exclamation point on the necessity of high-speed service in his State of the Union address last week.

Those big numbers—combined with some of the prices the FCC has been pitching as potential windfalls in the auction—may also have some broadcasters looking harder at possible benefits to the process.

Then there is the issue of auction fatigue. Wireless companies need spectrum, but the biggest companies serving the majority of subscribers have just likely ponied up most of that almost $45 billion in the AWS-3 auction. Financial analyst Craig Moffett estimates that each may have bid $18 billion in the auction, with AT&T perhaps shelling out a little more than that. Thus, they may want a little break before the next auction, where they will likely need to bid many billions more.

But Preston Padden, head of the Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition, which represents stations whose common interest is giving up spectrum at the right price, maintains that the AWS-3 auction success is no argument for delaying the next.

“Wireless carriers have both the incentive and the ability to secure an abundance of capital to bid for the far superior spectrum that will be available in the Incentive Auction,” he says. “Because demand for wireless broadband is exploding, and because it may take up to 39 months after the auction for the carriers to actually get the spectrum, further delay of the auction cannot be justified from a public interest standpoint.”


The Democratic National Committee is using the president’s call for faster broadband to raise some quick money for the party.

The committee sent an e-mail to supporters in advance of the State of the Union speech, but after the President had already telegraphed that high-speed broadband would be one of the legacies he is looking to build in his last term.

“Stand with President Obama,” says the e-mail. “President Obama is proposing new measures to give more Americans access to faster Internet. If you’re reading this, we’re guessing you agree—so add your name.”

Clicking the red “I’m In” bar takes you to a screen where it thanks you for adding your name (although, if you are reading the e-mail, it already knows your name, and your address and phone number, which are already on the template) and asks you to take the next step. Predictably, that step is donating to the administration’s Title II agenda.

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.