Broadcasters: FCC Interference Methodology Proposal is 'Legally Unsustainable'

The "clearly erroneous inputs and technically unsound assumptions" in the FCC's band plan proposals on repacking and interference methodologies must be abandoned or risk a failed incentive auction. 

That was the message from broadcasters, commercial and noncommercial, networks and stations, to the FCC Tuesday 9March 18).

Broadcasters are accusing the commission of cutting corners on its variable band plan proposal and warn it will be "playing with fire" if it attempts to lowball the interference problems inherent in that approach to repacking broadcasters after the 2015 incentive auctions to free up broadcast spectrum for broadband wireless.

In comments to the FCC, NAB, whose members include the broadcast networks, teamed with the network affiliate associations, PBS, CPB and the Association of Public Television Stations to advise the FCC where they thought it was going wrong with its proposed band plan, saying its repacking methodology would be illegal not to mention, though they did, creating "significant interference" issues.

"The Commission must not use the proposed OET methodology as a basis for repacking, and it should not use the proposed OET methodology as a basis for predicting interference to provide information to wireless bidders in the forward auction," the broadcasters said flatly. "Use of the proposed methodology as a basis for repacking broadcast television stations would violate the express terms of the Spectrum Act. Such use would be legally unsustainable, and would risk upending or significantly delaying the auction."

"Virtually every decision OET [the Office of Engineering and Technology] has made in developing its methodology appears to have been selected to direct the outcome towards shorter separation distances even where inter-service interference is likely to occur."

Shorter separations in a variable plan would allow the FCC to free up more spectrum, but broadcasters argue that goal is trumping necessary interference protections in contravention of the authorizing statue, which requires the FCC to make best efforts to preserve those protections after repacking.

In a charge that could be a prelude to a broadcaster legal challenge to the auction band plan, the broadcasters said that in addition to the FCC's "methodological missteps," its Jan. 29, 2014, Public Notice on interference is just the latest in a string of "procedurally deficient" FCC actions that violate both the Spectrum Act authorizing legislation and the Administrative Procedure Act.

Broadcasters have argued that OET's proffering of a new methodology for calculating inter-service interference, which the FCC says is more up to date, violates the incentive auction legislation, which they say requires it to use the methodology in existence when the law was passed.

The broadcasters say that OET has also not provided sufficient detail concerning how it will change the methodology, so has not given broadcasters "meaningful" opportunity to comment--as the APA requires. 

If the FCC wants its incentive auction framework to pass muster, they suggest, it needs to choose a band plan that minimizes potential interference, and an interference methodology that is "far simpler" to employ and more balanced in its interference predictions.

According to sources, the FCC is preparing to vote on an incentive auction framework at its May 15 meeting.

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.