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NAB Chief Calls for Auction Transparency and Minimized Service Disruption

WASHINGTON: The chief of the National Association of Broadcasters asked regulators today to keep the TV spectrum incentive auction process as open and orderly as possible in light of the growing reliance on over-the-air TV.

“The success of incentive auctions will be measured by the clarity of the process and the net result for TV viewers and wireless consumers alike,” Gordon Smith said in a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski and the four sitting commissioners. “By actively engaging TV broadcasters as partners in this process, the FCC can achieve its goals of acquiring more spectrum for wireless broadband while preserving spectrum dedicated to free broadcast television.”

He noted recent figures indicating over-the-air reliance had grown to nearly 18 percent of U.S. TV households, and outlined a five-point plan for the process. First, he said, the auction procedures must be “fully transparent.”

“Many broadcasters are apprehensive about the incentive auction and repacking process. There are many unanswered questions,” he said. Among them are issues regarding retention of service areas, distribution of the $1.75 billion relocation fund and minimizing loss of service when stations have to change channels.

Second, he said, stations should be able to retain their current coverage areas. The bill authorizing the incentive auctions instructs the FCC only to “make all reasonable efforts to preserve... the coverage area and population served of each broadcast television licensee.”

“Local broadcast service should be ubiquitous after the incentive auction just as it is today,” Smith said. “Channel reassignments and repacking must be handled with extreme caution and full transparency. It’s clear that repacking has the potential to be disruptive to viewers—whether as a temporary or permanent loss of service.”

Smith said transparency was critical to both viewers and auction participants. The impact on low-power TV and translators should be considered as well, he said.

“NAB urges the commission to release for comment the repacking and channel reassignment proposals, including those that have been successfully coordinated with Canada and Mexico, before the forward auction is completed,” he said.

Smith’s third point is to limit the number of stations affected by the repacking.

“During the DTV transition, stations migrated to already operating signals, allowing viewers a seamless transition,” he said. “By contrast, repacking the broadcast band for an incentive auction will likely require stations to shut down for some period, resulting in a loss of service to viewers.

“Limiting the number of relocated stations will minimize viewer disruption. It will also ease in the administration of the $1.75 billion relocation fund; ensuring remaining stations are reimbursed within the three-year window. For this reason, NAB urges the commission to limit the number of stations that are required to move during a band repacking.”

Point No. 4 is to leave the broadcast band alone after this second reassignment round. The commission reassigned 108 MHz of TV spectrum for wireless use in the 2009 digital transition.

“Innovation… will include multicasting, mobile DTV, ultra-high definition TV and services not yet imagined,” Smith said. “Having spectrum dedicated exclusively to broadcasting is essential to fostering these technological developments and ensuring the public continues to receive the best and most advanced television services in the world.”

Finally, Smith said all affected industries needed adequate time to evaluate how the auction and repacking could affect their businesses.

“NAB is eager to work closely and cooperatively with you and your staff,” he concluded. “I am confident in the commission’s ability to complete this proceeding in a way that ensures the continued expansion of wireless broadband while sustaining future growth opportunities for a vibrant and vital local broadcast service for all Americans.