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Likely Reallocation of TV Broadcast Spectrum Impacts Purchase Decisions at 2011 NAB Show

Manufacturers I talked to at NAB said that while they were getting some new orders for full power antennas, many customers were waiting to see the outcome of the FCC's effort to take away over half the UHF TV channels and auction them for wireless broadband use.

While there was much speculation about how these channels would be cleared and the impact on existing TV stations, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in his remarks at the NAB Show provided a few clues. Genachowski acknowledged the interest in Mobile DTV in his comment, "We don't know what will work in the marketplace, but nothing the FCC is considering would or should interfere with market-based innovation around Mobile DTV." He spent more time talking about broadcasters' offering local news and other programs on the Internet. He noted that of the 28 commercial over-the-air stations in the New York market, only 6 invest in news coverage of any kinds and said, "it does affect any objective analysis of broadcast markets in view of national spectrum needs.

Perhaps I'm being too optimistic, but one of Chairman Genachowski's comments hints they might be willing to accept taking something less than 120 MHz of broadcast spectrum -- "Even if [emphasis added] 120 MHz of the 294 MHz allocated for broadcasting were freed up as a result of an incentive auction, a healthy and robust broadcast system would remain and nothing would change the terms of use of a 6 MHz channel, including mobile DTV." Another positive comment was "it's essential that broadcasters be treated fairly. That means, for example, that broadcasters should be fully compensated for any costs of any channel changes, and that any moves from UHF to VHF should be voluntary." That last point is significant.

From comments at the session, it is clear that many broadcasters will have to change channels. The only way stations that are now on UHF can stay on UHF after the reallocation, assuming the FCC takes 120 MHz of UHF spectrum, is for many stations to give up their spectrum completely or combine with other stations to share spectrum. Until the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is released, we won't know how this will work. It is reasonable to assume that while a move from UHF to VHF channels would be voluntary, the FCC will provide some extra incentive for stations to make the move. It will be interesting to see what happens between now and next year's NAB Show.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.