NAB Defends Incentive Auction Objections

WASHINGTON—The broadcast lobby replied with a roundhouse to those opposing its efforts to secure concessions for its members in the spectrum incentive auction.

“We urge the commission to reject the arguments of parties urging an incentive auction that seeks only to repurpose spectrum, and to protect television broadcasters and their millions of viewers,” the National Association of Broadcasters said in reply comments aimed at parties opposing petitions to reconsider the auction filed with the Federal Communications Commission.

The NAB takes particular aim at CTIA-The Wireless Association, for its “smash and grab approach to the spectrum auction.”

“No one expects CTIA to advocate for the rights of broadcasters and America’s over-the-air viewers. But CTIA’s cheerleading for the commission’s decisions that abrogate the rights of broadcasters and their viewers under the Spectrum Act is Exhibit A for exactly how the commission’s decisions will impact the two industries,” the NAB said. “According to CTIA, the FCC’s current auction rules properly elevate spectrum recovery above any other consideration, which should give the commission pause.”

Congress did not have “damn the torpedoes” in mind when it set spectrum auction policy, the NAB said.

“Congress did not authorize the repurposing of spectrum at all costs. Rather, Congress created a balanced, market-driven approach, under which broadcaster participation would be truly voluntary – with express protections built into the law to ensure that it stayed that way,” it said.

The NAB is not objecting wholesale to the incentive auction in which wireless providers will bid on voluntarily released TV spectrum, but rather some of the finer points in the FCC’s Report & Order on how it is to be carried out. The NAB sued the commission in federal court in August to keep it from using a channel repacking method it says will diminish coverage for thousands of TV stations. (See “NAB Sues FCC Over Incentive Auction Rules.”)

In its reply comments, the NAB referred to the FCC’s methodology as a “completely unconstrained approach to repacking” that would “dramatically exceed the $1.75 billion allocated to the TV Broadcaster Relocation Fund.”

The NAB noted that CTIA initially claimed the repack could be done for “only $775 million,” but later changed course.

CTIA now argues that it is okay for the FCC to blow through the repacking fund, because limiting repacking costs to the $1.75 billion budget ‘threatens to limit the number of stations repacked and thus the amount of spectrum made available for wireless services,’” the NAB said. “This argument completely ignores Congress’s direction under the Spectrum Act.”

Using the FCC’s Widelity Report repacking estimates, the NAB said “repacking more than 1,300 stations to clear 84 MHz of spectrum may cost more than $2.6 billion, leaving a shortfall of at least $600,000 per station.” It suggested that winning bidders in the auction “cover any shortfall if the FCC’s estimates prove inaccurate.”

The NAB also took issue with the commission’s strategy of creating an acceptable level of service loss rather than treating current coverage as a floor for repacking. It said the FCC could allow stations to crank up the power levels and rescind interference protections for areas outside of a station’s original contour.

Another problem is the 39-month relocation window, the NAB said.

“The commission’s own Widelity Report suggests that, under ideal circumstances, in a world without weather, mishaps, or unforeseen delays, it could take 41 monthsor more for some broadcasters to complete their transition to their new channels,” it said. “CTIA doesn’t dispute this data; rather it merely states that broadcasters unable to relocate within that time are simply out of luck.”

International coordination is another sticky wicket. CTIA opposes the NAB’s position that it must be complete before the auction so border stations don’t get shut out of the reimbursement fund. There is also disagreement on whether or not to clear he same amount of spectrum in each market—a nationwide versus a variable band plan.

Finally, the NAB is skeptical about the FCC’s approach to allowing unlicensed devices in the buffer bands between broadcast and wireless services before determining if it is technically feasible.