FCC must protect TV broadcasters from incentive auction harm, says Kaplan

Television broadcasters will be lucky to walk away from the incentive auction with “a tie” and face the prospect of a much bleaker outcome defined by less coverage, diminished service and even, in some instances, leaving viewers in portions of the country in the dark if the FCC fails to do three things.

That was the message Rick Kaplan, NAB EVP of Strategic Planning, delivered July 23 during a hearing by the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology on “Oversight of Incentive Auction Implementation.”

“Some have described the auction as a win-win-win, with the final victory being awarded to broadcasters,” said Kaplan in an allusion to former FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, who publicly pitched that very notion to the television industry less than a month after unveiling the agency’s National Broadband Plan. “To be candid, from what we have seen so far, we will be lucky to escape with a tie.”

Kaplan testified that the FCC must ensure three things to prevent the broadcast industry from experiencing a loss as a result of the incentive auction and spectrum repack.

First, the agency must make sure that broadcasters remaining on-air post auction experience no harm, he said. Kaplan pointed to a provision of the law authorizing the auction that requires the FCC to make sure TV broadcasters serve the same population and cover the same geographic area after the auction as they did before.

“The FCC should not, for example, move the goalposts by altering the formula by which they calculate these coverage areas,” he said. He added that TV broadcasters should not be expected to incur any expense related to a repack stemming from the spectrum auction.

Second, the FCC must develop a band plan that avoids interference between broadcasters and wireless operators. “The engineering behind the FCC staff’s variable plan has not been vetted in an open forum, and the time has come to put the staff’s engineering assumptions to the test,” he said.

Third, the commission must “do all it can” to preserve low-power and TV translator station. Acknowledging that LPTV and TV translators are not formally protected in the law, Kaplan noted that their protection is critical for viewers, particularly those in the western United States and rural communities.

“If the commission repacks too aggressively, literally thousands of translators and many more low-power TV stations will disappear and never return, and many of your constituents will be deprived of an essential lifeline and the diverse OTA programming they have come to expect,” he said.