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NAB claims FCC spectrum plan would shut down stations

The NAB is on the warpath, calling on its broadcaster members to warn that the federal government is trying to take television stations off the air.

The FCC has wide support for allowing TV stations to sell off some of their excess spectrum inventory and expects to release 120MHz of TV spectrum as part of the government's stated aim of putting 500MHz of new spectrum into the market.

The NAB said 40 percent of full-power local television stations in the U.S. could have to vacate their current TV channel assignment under the National Broadband Plan, and a minimum of 210 of those stations could go off the air permanently.

The NAB analysis found that 672 of the nation's 1735 full-power TV stations must be "cleared" from channels 31-51 to accommodate the FCC's goal of reclaiming an additional 120MHz of spectrum from broadcasters. During the analog-to-digital TV transition two years ago, only 174 stations had to be cleared from channels 52-69 and forced to move to a new channel.

"If the FCC's National Broadband Plan to recapture 20 more TV channels is implemented, service disruption, confusion and inconvenience for local television viewers will make the 2009 DTV transition seem like child's play," said NAB president Gordon Smith. "NAB endorses truly voluntary spectrum auctions. Our concern is that the FCC plan will morph into involuntary, because it is impossible for the FCC to meet spectrum reclamation goals without this becoming a government mandate."

Eleven of New York City's 23 full-power TV stations would likely go off the air under the FCC plan, the NAB report said. In Los Angeles, 13 of 27 full-power TV stations would likely go off the air, as well as 12 of 19 in the Philadelphia market and 13 of 23 in the San Francisco/San Jose market, the NAB said.

Two trade groups disputed the NAB's "scare tactics." The spectrum plan calls for TV stations to voluntarily give up spectrum and for stations to be reimbursed for the cost of changing channels, said Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs at CTIA, a trade group representing mobile carriers. The NAB is using scare tactics when the spectrum reallocation can accommodate TV stations and mobile broadband providers, he said in a statement.

With incentive auctions, some TV stations may volunteer to share their spectrum, and others may decide to shut down and take the auction money, creating less of a TV spectrum crunch than predicted, added Michael Petricone, senior vice president of government affairs for the Consumer Electronics Association.

"The NAB study sets up and knocks down a purely fictional straw man," he said in a statement. "The study presumes an unrealistic scenario in which every single existing TV station continues to operate over the air."