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NAB Seeks FCC Clarity on 'Voluntary' Auction

The National Association of Broadcasters has petitioned the FCC to clarify that "all broadcasters will receive equal treatment in repacking, regardless of whether and how they participate in the auction (if their bids are not ultimately accepted)," saying repacking only stations that don't participate in the auction would not fill the bill.

In a Petition for Clarification filed Sept. 11, NAB points out that the FCC's incentive auction framework public notice approved Aug. 6, suggests the FCC is only going to repack stations that don't participate in the auction or don't participate "in a particular manner" in the wireless band.

The FCC has to repack TV stations into smaller spectrum space to free up contiguous bands to auction to wireless companies.

The public notice says that at the FCC initial spectrum clearing target, the only stations to be repacked in wireless bands are the ones that did not enter the auction, did not have their applications accepted, or whose choice of participation could not be accommodated—say a station that wanted to move from a UHF to a VHF channel or from a high V to a low, but there was no channel available.

If the FCC does not get enough stations to accept bids at its initial clearing target, stations who dropped out in the initial round can also be repacked in the wireless band.

Although the FCC has said that stations who are repacked in the wireless portion won't be disadvantaged and will have robust interference protections, NAB says no station would voluntarily seek to be repacked there, which means the FCC would be putting a thumb on the scale in favor of participation.

"A broadcaster placed in the wireless band will be surrounded by wireless operations that are incompatible with, and hostile to, the broadcaster’s continued operations," NAB said. "It would be as if one’s home was relocated to a commercially-zoned neighborhood; the home might be identical, but it would not be as comfortable, and certainly not as valuable."

Given that Congress said the auction must be entirely voluntary, "no station should feel obligated to participate in the auction and its decision whether and at what level to participate should be motivated solely by the economic opportunity presented," NAB said.

The petition was filed the same day NAB asked the FCC to reconsider the framework's decision to repack some stations in the duplex gap portion of the wireless band, which NAB says fails to address the FCC's own argument for preserving that gap for wireless mics. It also asked the FCC to reconsider its standard for market variability and allowable impairment (interference) given recent "progress" in spectrum coordination with Canada and Mexico.

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.