Spectrum Battle Heats Up as Debt Ceiling Deadline Nears
July 18, 2011
WASHINGTON: Broadcast advocates are in a full-court press for protective
measures since incentive-auction legislation appears to be a slam dunk in a
debt-ceiling bill. Lawmakers must act before Aug. 2 to prevent the country from
going into default. Incentive-auction authorization is sure to be included
because of the revenues expected. Defenders of broadcasting have now
confederated around a four-point agenda with regard to the auction bills.
“It is essential for the bill to clearly outline that any broadcaster choosing
not to participate in a voluntary auction will not be adversely impacted,”
wrote Rep. Dan Boren, a Democrat from Oklahoma in a
to House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Boren asked for protection of coverage areas, no forced relocation into the VHF
band, that only one incentive auction take place, and that the “economic impact
of relocation on stations” be addressed.
Those were the same points made last week by Gordon Smith, head of the National
Association of Broadcasters. Smith testified before the House Subcommittee on
Communications and Technology. Coverage-area protection is of particular
concern because auctions will lead to TV stations having to move to new
frequencies. This channel repacking process is complicated because of
interference, signal overlap, loss of coverage in some cases, and coordination
with Canada and Mexico.
The VHF issue also comes into play in repacking because digital television
reception is poorer in the VHF band, Chs. 2-13, than for the higher UHF
frequencies. TV stations are still dealing with the fall-out from the repacking
triggered by the 2009 DTV transition. One recent example is KVIA-TV of El Paso,
Texas. The station recently received the final OK from the Federal
Communications Commission to move out of the VHF because of signal-coverage problems.
Smith told lawmakers that the FCC’s target of reclaiming 120 MHz of broadcast
spectrum would force 672 full-power TV stations onto new channels.
“That’s nearly 40 percent of all TV stations in America,” he said. “Contrast
this to the 174 stations that were cleared from the spectrum in the DTV
transition. Clearly, this new round of repacking would result in significant
disruption and confusion for our viewers--and your constituents--who recently
went through the DTV transition.”
Smith and the leadership of the 50 state broadcast associations want
legislation that clearly spells out the four-point protection plan for TV
stations. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus lent their support for the
cause last week. Reps. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Ed Towns (D-N.Y.), Donna
Christensen (D-V.I.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) wrote to Boehner and Pelosi
as well, with particular concern about a fledgling broadcast network targeting
black audiences. The network, Bounce TV, is set to launch this fall on the subchannels
of around 60 TV stations coverage 35 percent of the country.
“We want to make sure that voluntary incentive auctions do not threaten the
diversity of programming,” the four
“It concerns us that many television stations, particularly those independently
owned and operated broadcast television networks aimed at minority audiences,
could be imperiled if broadcasters are repacked into new channels without
In addition to lawmakers, the NAB is reaching out to the public for support.
Smith recently penned an editorial for the
News Horizon, describing the Washington rhetoric that it’s outdated.
“What is perhaps most disappointing in this debate is the dismissive treatment
of those Americans exclusively reliant on free TV,” he said.
Whit Adamson, president of the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters,
questioned the expectations of spectrum auctions in an editorial in
“The bidders are expected to be from the wireless phone providers to build out
their national phone networks,” he said. “With this proposed merger, and
without AT&T and T-Mobile at the bargaining table, we wonder just how
profitable the proceeds may be at the expense of viewers who would then have to
pay a signal carrier and lose the historically free choice of over-the-air
With the debt-ceiling deadline two weeks away, lawmakers are moving on
spectrum-auction bills. The Senate bill, S.911, has passed out of committee for
consideration on the floor. At least three such bills are circulating in the
House. The NAB is responding with a
involving print, TV and radio spots. The spots became available Friday.
“We’re asking all stations to air these spots as often as possible between now
and Aug. 2 to send a strong message to members of congress,” the organization
Deborah D. McAdams