NAB Sues FCC Over Incentive Auction

The National Association of Broadcasters has challenged the FCC's broadcast incentive auction in a D.C. federal appeals court, saying that its auction framework "violates the Spectrum Act; (2) is arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion under the Administrative Procedure Act."

NAB's primary beef is with how the FCC is proposing to predict TV station coverage areas, which it says could result in significant viewership loss. The NAB says that the FCC changed the methodology (the OET-69 bulletin) in contravention of the statute.

“We are confident that the Report and Order fulfills the mandates established by Congress on this complex matter," said an FCC spokesperson.

"Specifically, the NAB challenged, among other things, the FCC decision to change the methodology used to predict local television coverage areas and population served," NAB said in a statement. "[That]h could result in significant loss of viewership of broadcast TV stations after the FCC 'repacks' TV stations into a shrunken TV band."

"The petition also states that the FCC failed to take steps to preserve licensees' coverage areas in repacking," says NAB, "and that the FCC erred in failing to ensure proper protections for broadcast translators, which are transmitters that help boost the coverage of broadcast TV programming to more rural and remove viewers."

The statute requires the FCC to make all reasonable efforts to preserve TV station coverage areas and associated interference protections.

The Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition (EOBC), which also has issues with the way coverage areas are being calculated, said it hoped the issue could be settled without delaying the auction.

"Our Coalition is pleased that the NAB acted promptly after the release of the Auction Report and Order so that any legal issues can be resolved well before the mid-2015 scheduled start of the Auction," said EOBC Executive Director Preston Padden.

CTIA – The Wireless Association, whose members will be bidding on that spectrum and moving in beside broadcasters, said it would have preferred not have the issue go to court. “We continue to believe that the incentive auction will be a win for broadcasters, wireless companies and consumers, and that the FCC’s order strikes the right balance to ensure that consumers emerge as winners," CTIA said in a statement.

“While we would prefer to work together collaboratively to address NAB’s concerns rather than resort to litigation, we are hopeful the court addresses these issues quickly and that the NAB adheres to its commitment for an expedited process without unnecessary delays."

CTIA wants to make sure the issue does not delay the auction.

“As the FCC Commissioners, members of Congress and independent third party analysts continue to emphasize, the wireless industry needs more spectrum as soon as possible to be able to meet mobile broadband demand. To help meet that need, we will continue to work with the FCC, NAB and other affected stakeholders to ensure that the Commission is ready to hold the auction on schedule in mid-2015.”

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.