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NAB Says Broadband Plan Will Create Large Broadcast TV Disruption

This week the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) released the results of an analysis on the impact of removing 120 MHz of spectrum (TV Channels 31–51) for TV broadcasting purposes.

A total of 672 full-power TV stations (out of 1,735 full-power TV stations) would have to move to a new channel. There wouldn't be enough spectrum left in the top 10 TV markets for all stations to have a channel—73 stations in these markets would have to go dark.

Due to shared tower space and the complications involved in changing channels at a TV transmitter site (see my article Genachowski Shows Lack of Understanding in Channel Change Complexity), the NAB said that more than half of all TV stations would probably have to disrupt service to millions of viewers for periods of a few hours up to a few weeks to allow the TV channels to be "repacked" into different (lower) channel assignments.

"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 Gordon Smith, NAB president. "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."

Smith added, "We've waited patiently for over a year for FCC data on how the Broadband Plan impacts broadcasters, and more importantly, the tens of millions of viewers who rely every day on local TV for news, entertainment, sports and lifeline emergency weather information. Even Congress can't get information from the FCC. All we are seeking is more transparency. We have but one chance to get this right if we are to preserve future innovation for broadcasters and our viewers."

Fortunately there is a bill in the House of Representatives that would give broadcasters some certainty about their future. I wrote about it last week in House Bill Would Limit Spectrum Incentive Auction Plan. The bad news is it appears there is some risk that deficit reduction packages might remove some of the protection provided in that bill.

NAB Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton issued a statement Tuesday saying, "NAB is deeply concerned about provisions currently in Senate Majority Leader Reid's legislation that would threaten the future of a great American institution—free and local television. We will work with him as the process moves forward in hopes that our issues can be addressed."

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.