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TV Coalition Pitches Own National Broadband Plan

The Coalition for Free TV and Broadband Thursday said that using the vaunted one-to-many mobile broadcast delivery, rather than auctioning broadcast spectrum, was the most efficient way to handle wireless broadband spectrum traffic crunches and would also be the most lucrative for the U.S. Treasury.

At a Press Club event in Washington, the coalition, which is made up mostly of low-power stations but also backed by auction opponent Sinclair Broadcasting, said that allowing TV stations to keep their spectrum and provide an over-the-top service to offload wireless traffic during peak periods could yield a "perpetual" revenue stream to the Treasury worth potentially as much as $216 billion.

It is pitching the plan to Congress as it contemplates legislation that would give the FCC authority to compensate broadcasters for giving up spectrum whose auction to wireless companies is predicted to raise several billion dollars -- there is no firm figure -- for deficit reduction. The congressional supercommittee is a new focus of that lobbying effort as it looks to cut the deficit by over a trillion dollars.

"The economic analysis confirms what we have always believed: The efficiency of broadcast distribution for bandwidth-intensive data, especially high quality video, cannot be matched.  And most of the growth in mobile data demand is driven by mobile video use," said Mark Aitken, VP of Advanced Technology for Sinclair at the event, according to the coalition. "Eliminating destructive regulations and giving broadcasters the flexibility to innovate and compete will yield huge service improvements for Americans and enormous gains for the Treasury," he said.

Sinclair was an early and vocal proponent of mobile DTV.

The National Association of Broadcasters has taken a different tack on the auctions, saying it is not opposed to auctions so long as the broadcasters left behind have enough spectrum to innovate and can maintain essentially the same coverage areas and interference protections.

The coalition sees it quite differently. Coalition Chairman Irwin Podhaiser said that thousands of low power stations and hundreds of full-powers should not be sacrificed needlessly for the sake of incentive auctions.

"Needlessly" is at the crux of their argument.

They say their alternative to an auction would:

"Avert a spectrum shortage by providing a vastly more efficient way to deliver the bandwidth-intensive broadband traffic
Lead to lower prices for mobile broadband data while improving service quality
Eliminate the need for incentive auctions, protecting Americans who rely on full power and low power broadcast television from loss of service.
Provide more than $60 billion in new revenue to the U.S. Treasury in the first fifteen years, far more than the projected net proceeds from incentive auctions
Provide a perpetual revenue stream that could be worth as much as $216 billion to the U.S. Treasury."

The billion-dollar figures are new, but the proposal to let broadcasters keep their spectrum and provide what is pitched as a more elegant "overlay" service for wireless based on the efficiencies of their one-to-many architecture is not. Capitol Broadcasting's James Goodmon pitched the idea to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowksi last winter to what was then called a cordial reception.

The chairman continues to push for the auctions as absolutely essential to innovation and job creation, including posting a retro graphic on the FCC's Web site this week to make that point to the public.

"NAB is studying the Coalition proposal, which offers interesting ideas worth reviewing," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. "Our official position continues to be the following: NAB has no quarrel with incentive auctions so long as broadcasters who choose to stay in business are held harmless. That means no material loss of viewers through repacking, compensation for forced relocation to another channel position, and the ability to deliver to our tens of millions of viewers the digital promise of full HDTV, multicasting and live and local mobile DTV."