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07.29.2010 12:00AM
Latest Spectrum Bill Prohibits Involuntary Turnover
Auctioni WASHINGTON: A spectrum-related bill rolled out on Capitol Hill today explicitly prohibits involuntary reclamation. The “Voluntary Incentive Auctions Act of 2010” states that, “The Federal Communications Commission shall not reclaim frequencies of broadcast television licensees or any other licensees directly or indirectly on an involuntary basis.”

Reps. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), communications subcommittee chairman, and Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), its ranking member, introduced the bill. The intent is to free up radio frequency spectrum for the FCC’s National Broadband Plan without elbowing incumbents out. The bill authorizes the FCC to share auction proceeds with broadcasters, and gives the agency discretion to determine how much.


The Plan, unveiled in March, included a proposal to share auction proceeds with TV station licensees who voluntarily give up spectrum. It seeks to reclaim 120 MHz--around 40 percent--of the spectrum allocated for television broadcasting. The Plan received President Obama’s official blessing last month. (
See “Obama Memo Orders Agencies to Free 500 MHz for Broadband.”)

The Boucher-Stearns bill applies “only in instances in which television broadcasters or other spectrum holders willingly enter into agreements with the FCC...”


Boucher emphasized the goal of the legislation was to “ensure that any incentive auctions the [FCC] conducts are truly voluntary.”


Stearns said, “No spectrum licensee, whether a broadcaster or wireless provider, should be forced to give up the spectrum they currently hold.


One thing the bill does not address is potential new fees levied on broadcasters who do not hand over spectrum. The FCC has floated the notion, to the objection of the National Association of Broadcasters.


“Stations that choose not to participate in a voluntary incentive auction must not be subjected to onerous new spectrum taxes that would make it increasingly difficult for stations to finance local programming, operations and newsgathering efforts,” NAB chief Gordon Smith recently said in a 
letter to Lawrence Summers, director of the National Economic Council. 

The Boucher-Stearns bill follows an announcement from Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) last week that he intended to introduce legislation authorizing the FCC to share auction proceeds with broadcasters. The FCC cannot do so without a Congressional mandate. Rockefeller’s play came just two days after Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) bowed a revenue-sharing bill.


Several other spectrum-related bills circulating on the Hill call for spectrum inventories and auctioning of the public-safety D Block. The FCC is scheduled to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on its broadcast-spectrum proposals this quarter.


-- Deborah D. McAdams


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1.
Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Thu, 07-29-2010 - 6:11PM Report Comment
OK, so one can conclude that if a station has no virtual subchannels or SDs, then the full 6 MHz is in use for HD? Is there a number published or measured somewhere that documents this?
2.
Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Thu, 08-05-2010 - 12:53PM Report Comment
"At this point, what we need in this discussion is a real engineer. There are devices called "Spectrum Analyzers"." That's one way to determine if all bandwidth is in use, but why won't broadcast stations just tell us? What's the big secret? Or why doesn't someone commit some investigative journalism, do a little field work, and report it to the public if this is such an important issue? What is it going to take to put this to rest?
3.
Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Thu, 08-05-2010 - 12:49PM Report Comment
"Nothing about the National Broadband Plan is based on hard data." No argument on that. It's been previously and succinctly reported by TVB. Transparency on both sides would be an improvement for everyone. The FCC publicly stated there will be no involuntary reclamation. Broadcasters claim there will be. Way too much "he said; she said", lobbying and politics. To the general public, it looks like both parties are hiding something.
4.
Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Wed, 08-04-2010 - 1:50PM Report Comment
"Rather than showing the bandwidth is in use, there's deflection and argument, not data." At this point, what we need in this discussion is a real engineer. There are devices called "Spectrum Analyzers". Some operate at audio frequencies, others in the broadcast frequencies, and others at the frequencies of light. I believe that you can hook the right kind up to a TV antenna in a major market, and get a graph of how much energy there is in each and every channel. Until someone competent comes along, have a look at this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spectrum_analyzer
5.
Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Thu, 07-29-2010 - 5:48PM Report Comment
There are no additional channels. Each station gets 6 MHz, no more, no less. They can choose to divide that 6 MHz up between multiple low quality streams, or to use it all for high definition that actually looks good. You can use more compression on your HD and squeeze in a couple SD's, but the picture quality suffers. Satellite and cable use a lot of compression, which is why free to air HDTV looks better than satellite and cable, on those stations that give it the full 6 MHz.
6.
Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Thu, 07-29-2010 - 2:05PM Report Comment
When are we going to see the commercial broadcasters *use* their additional digital channels for something useful? All I've seen from their extra bandwidth is poor man's weather channel radar maps and advertisements. The only stations actually putting their extra channels to use are PBS affiliates.
7.
Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Fri, 07-30-2010 - 5:08PM Report Comment
"Is there a number published or measured somewhere that documents this?" Not that I know of, but it shouldn't be difficult to do. I doubt that any broadcaster or engineer involved in the development of HDTV ever expected to face cross examination on this point. Instead, the idea was that people would watch TV and make their own subjective decisions as to the quality of the pictures. I invite you to do that. Flip back and forth between a prime time ed drama on CBS and one of the postage stamp feeds on PBS not from cable or satellite, but off the air. On a good HD set, the difference should be obvious.
8.
Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Mon, 08-09-2010 - 2:30PM Report Comment
"Finally, there are probably 1000 stations, but there are far less owners." The actual FCC number last I heard was in the neighborhood of 1800. Big expensive stations in major markets tend to be what's consolidated in the hands of big station groups. In the many smaller markets, you get a lot more owners who have just a single local station the mom and pop shops of television.
9.
Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Wed, 08-04-2010 - 12:54PM Report Comment
Neither is the 40 percent based on data; nor is the goal to gather 500 MHz based on hard data. Nothing about the National Broadband Plan is based on hard data.
10.
Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Wed, 08-04-2010 - 12:48PM Report Comment
"It simply intends to reclaim 40 percent of broadcast TV spectrum" If it's not in use, then why not use it for something? If it is in use, then you have a much stronger argument against reclaiming it. Rather than showing the bandwidth is in use, there's deflection and argument, not data.
11.
Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Wed, 08-04-2010 - 12:35PM Report Comment
It doesn't matter to this FCC or the Administration what the TV stations "show" in terms of bandwidth use. The proffered plan does not take that into consideration. It simply intends to reclaim 40 percent of broadcast TV spectrum, regardless of how much remains undeveloped by Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and other entities going after more.
12.
Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Wed, 08-04-2010 - 12:26PM Report Comment
"That's like saying if you live in all the rooms of your house, what's the big deal about moving six more people into the spare bedroom." No, it's not. It's like saying all the rooms in the house are in use or full all the time, so there's nothing to reclaim. If the stations simply showed they are using all their bandwidth, there's no issue. Instead there's chest thumping and bluster instead of numbers and facts.
13.
Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Mon, 08-02-2010 - 5:19PM Report Comment
" Are stations using their full 6MHz or sand bagging bandwidth they aren't using? " Hmmm Why would they want to? To use less than the full 6 MHz for HD takes more compression, which is harder to do. It would only be worth the bother if they had something such as SD or data that they wanted to include. To leave part of their spectrum unused makes no sense, how would they benefit from that?
14.
Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Wed, 08-04-2010 - 9:47AM Report Comment
"If all stations are using their full bandwidth spectrum, then what's all the fuss about reclamation, voluntary or otherwise?" That's like saying if you live in all the rooms of your house, what's the big deal about moving six more people into the spare bedroom.
15.
Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Wed, 08-04-2010 - 9:25AM Report Comment
"To leave part of their spectrum unused makes no sense, how would they benefit from that?" If all stations are using their full bandwidth spectrum, then what's all the fuss about reclamation, voluntary or otherwise?
16.
Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Mon, 08-02-2010 - 12:08PM Report Comment
"Flip back and forth between a prime time ed drama on CBS and one of the postage stamp feeds on PBS not from cable or satellite, but off the air. On a good HD set, the difference should be obvious." Sure, between the PBS SD "postage stamp" and CBS HD there's a noticable difference, but not with the PBS HD feed. Are stations using their full 6MHz or sand bagging bandwidth they aren't using? I don't know but I wouldn't be surprised.
17.
Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Thu, 07-29-2010 - 7:55PM Report Comment
The bill prohibits "indirect" and coercive attempts to reclaim spectrum, but without outlining what constitutes "indirect", and without addressing what NAB already sees as indirect and coercive behavior: the punitive tax on broadcasters who don't relinquish spectrum. What DOES the bill prohibit, exactly? Sending mean notes to broadcasters moms? Stealing their lunch money every day for a year? Oh wait, the second one is okay (see: tax).
18.
Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Fri, 08-06-2010 - 2:57PM Report Comment
"I'm hard pressed to understand how supplanting "Frontline" with Twitter, Facebook and YouTube is in the public interest." - Clever choices, but how about replacing [ reality-tv show] with Hulu or Netflix or pbs.org? Also, L.A. has multiple vendors of broadband already, right? It's rural communities that need access. Isn't that how cable got started... you couldn't get a reliable TV signal out in the burbs/country? Regarding KCET, yes, as stated earlier, PBS is giving the community quality, value and choice with their bandwidth. Perhaps CBS, et al are too, but why don't they just state they are using their bandwidth and there's nothing to give back? Why would anyone think there's spectrum to reclaim if there isn't? Why doesn't the industry believe the FCC's statement there will be no involuntary reclamation? What are the real motivations? Finally, there are probably 1000 stations, but there are far less owners. Isn't that one of the complaints? Too much consolidation? BTW, I appreciate the responses and where applicable the education.
19.
Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Fri, 08-06-2010 - 1:13PM Report Comment
What are there... at least 1,000 station-owning entities and one person dedicated to TVB? So actually, no, I don't have the phone numbers of all those chief engineers. Also, remember that null-versus-used bandwidth varies throughout a 24-hour broadcast day. That said, it's pretty common knowledge that CBS O&Os and many of its non-owned affiliates use their bandwidth for HD. One can see the difference watching the over-the-air signal. NBC squeezes HD for its sports multicast, weather and a hyperlocal programming stream. The weather multicasts get disparaged but for those of us who rely exclusively on over-the-air TV, it's nice to have it. KCET here in L.A. has wonderful multicasts, including possibly the best nature channel in any language. The CW affil is multicasting THIS TVthe not-so-rich person's movie channel. So it's TV, right? Not Nobel-level fare, I realize, but I'm hard pressed to understand how supplanting "Frontline" with Twitter, Facebook and YouTube is in the public interest.
20.
Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Fri, 08-06-2010 - 12:55PM Report Comment
"With big corporations like the networks and station groups, you have to ask somebody who has the authority to speak for the company." Good idea. TVB has the contacts to do that, no?
21.
Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Thu, 08-05-2010 - 6:00PM Report Comment
"That's one way to determine if all bandwidth is in use, but why won't broadcast stations just tell us?" .... Have they been asked? With big corporations like the networks and station groups, you have to ask somebody who has the authority to speak for the company.




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