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Broadcast Alliance urges stations not to sell spectrum

A group of broadcasters that calls itself The Advanced Television Broadcasting Alliance is urging the NAB and others in the television industryto encourage all broadcasters not to participate in the upcoming broadcast TV spectrum auctions. The Alliance (formerly known as the Coalition forFree TV and Broadband) is made up of low-powertelevision stations, translators, full power television broadcasters andallied industry organizations and companies.

The move was sparked by a letter sent from Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) to Gordon Smith, president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). In it, Shapiro congratulated the NAB ona successful convention (which attracted nearly 92,000 people in April) and asked him to stop expressing skepticism aboutTV participation in incentive spectrum auctions.

In the letter, Shapiro stated, “I write to ask that you reconsider your public (and alsoprivate) posturing on the law allowing voluntary incentive spectrumauctions. Your speech at the NAB Show appeared to be rather discouraging ofbroadcaster participation in these auctions.”

Mark Aitken, vice president of Advanced Technology for Sinclair Broadcasting and an Alliance Board Member, said it's time for the industry to work together...again.

Mark Aitken, vice president of Advanced Technologyfor Sinclair Broadcasting and an Alliance Board Member, said theAlliance believes the CEA’s request “borders on arrogance to ask the NAB tocheerlead for an action that would lead to the diminishing of their industryand the robbing of the American public of the free airwaves.”

Aitken and the CEA have been at odds over the spectrum auctions from the very beginning, with the CEA supporting its members’ desire to acquire spectrum for unlicensed wireless uses. The NAB supported a law passed earlier this year that authorizes theFCC to carry out the auctions. Aitken feels stations would be foolish to give up their spectrum and essentially go out of business.

Late last year The Alliance proposed an alternative television platform, designed by Aitken, that they are calling a “Broadcast Overlay Plan.” It basically allows wireless carriers to “off-load” IP traffic onto the broadcast TV infrastructure, rather than auction off TV spectrum to wireless providers. The group said this approach would create more effectivebandwidth for both television and wireless industries, and could generate 10-16 times more revenue for the U.S. Treasury than a spectrum auction.

“Mr. Shapiro, in putting the wireless carriers in front of broadcasters, not only fails inhis vision for the future of the CEA’s membership, but has lost sight of thesingular role the TV Broadcast industry played in making HDTV and televisionhis industry's product roadmap for more than a decade,” Aitken said. “If Shapiro decided towork with broadcasters and help bring our vision of a ‘Broadcast Overlay’and new TV platform to reality, he could participate in the next decade ofrevolution for his membership, and actually solve the bandwidth crunch ofthe carriers. It's time to work together...again."

Aitken said the Alliance believes two views are being expressed on the future oftelevision. First, the pessimists groups believe local TV is in a steepdecline so they seek to hasten the industry’s demise. However, broadcasters, viewers, advertisers, local communities remain excited aboutthe future potential of television in this digital age. They are theentrepreneurs and business pioneers who built the television industry, created jobs-stimulating the economy for decades. The Alliance believes TV'sbest years are still ahead.”

Irwin Podhajser, Chairman of the Alliance and an independent broadcast consultant, said that giving up control ofthe broadcast airwaves will lead to less competition, less diversityand less jobs.

“There is simply a better way that will bring broadcastinginto the future, create more choices for consumers and solve the wirelessbroadband crunch without handing control of the free airwaves over to acouple of wireless companies," he said.

Last month former FCC Commissioner, Michael Copps called for an independent inventory of available spectrum during an interview with the C-SPAN series “The Communicators,” stating that he thinks there is a lot of unused spectrum to be had.

“There is a lot of spectrum out there, and I don’t think anybody in the United States has very much of a clue exactly how much spectrum is lying fallow,” he said.

Copps said he believes that there’s a “whole bunch of [spectrum] lying fallow that could fuel a whole lot of devices and fuel a whole lot of technology.”

Dennis Wharton, the NAB’s Executive Vice President of Communications, has said the 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.”

Watch the interview with Mark Aitken from NAB | Watch the interview with Dennis Wharton from NAB