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NAB Says OET-69 Changes ‘Unlawful’ and ‘Flawed’

WASHINGTON – Proposed changes in how a TV station’s reach is calculated are “fundamentally flawed in their execution” if not entirely “unlawful,” the National Association of Broadcasters said today in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology released a Public Notice in February proposing modifications to Bulletin OET-69, which describes the calculations used to forecast the coverage areas and interference factors for full-power and Class A low-power TV stations. The modifications were released in the form of software dubbed “TVStudy,” which at the time was compatible only on Apple platforms.

“Even if the TVStudy software’s numerous defects could be rectified, the timing of the proposed changes—on the cusp of the incentive auction, yet before the auction’s procedures have been determined—is the height of arbitrary and capricious agency action,” the NAB said. Fox, CBS, NBCU, ABC and their affiliated TV stations co-signed the statement.

The broadcasters’ primary argument against each of the proposed modifications to OET-69 is that they violate the Spectrum Act, which directs the FCC to “preserve, as of the date of enactment, the coverage area and population served of each broadcast television licensee.” The FCC’s proposed changes would affect how population, terrain assessment, antenna beam tilt, geographic coordinates and other parameters are calculated.

“NAB’s preliminary testing indicates that TV Study will effectively redefine and substantially reduce the coverage area of populations served for a significant number of television stations,” the filing said. “For example, initial testing showed that certain stations in California and Washington would lose more than one-third of their predicted viewers.”

Other proposed changes also would reduce the reach of many TV stations, including the way OET-69 now handles irregular terrain using the Longley-Rice model. Unrecognized terrain profiles generate flagged error cells which are now treated as areas with assumed coverage. Altering this to assumed interference would reduce the predicted coverage areas and population served for 97.3 percent of all TV stations, the NAB said. Nearly half would lose around one-third of their predicted population. Ignoring flagged cells would reduce coverage and population for 87 percent of TV stations, the NAB said.

Another terrain calculation change—from using three-arcsecond to one-arcsecond elevation data—would reduce the populations served for 85 percent of all full-power and Class A TV stations. Altering values for beam tilt would increase populations for some stations and reduce it for others, the NAB said. Using 2010 versus 2000 Census data, another proposal, would diminish the reach of 14 percent of broadcast licensees, it said.

The NAB also objected to the process by which the commission elected to alter OET-69—via a staff-level Public Notice rather than a commission-level Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

“OET’s attempt to change OET-69 at this time clearly violates commission regulations and the commission’s rules of procedure for departures from longstanding precedent and changes of this magnitude,” the broadcasters’ filing stated.

The filing concluded by saying that, “the incentive auction is enormously complicated and already posing unprecedented and difficult challenges. There is simply no reason to compound these difficulties by simultaneously overhauling OET-69, which Congress and the FCC previously have stating is the controlling standard.”
~ Deborah D. McAdams

The full filing is available here.