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NAB to FCC: Repack is No Excuse to Reallocate

WASHINGTON – The commission should not use the TV spectrum repacking as an opportunity to squeeze more low-power stations out of the band than absolutely necessary, the National Association of Broadcasters told the Federal Communications Commission in comments being filed today on the FCC’s incentive auction Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

“Some commenters appear to suggest that the commission should use this repacking opportunity as a pretext for a straight, government-directed reallocation,” the NAB said in its executive summary. “Sound public policy also dictates that the commission should not undertake a reallocation beyond what it needs to create nationwide bands of spectrum or mobile broadband consistent with a voluntary, market-based auction.”

The NAB said reallocating spectrum, beyond the auction and through the repacking, would hurt Western states by wiping out LPTVs and translators—a concern also shared by the Montana and Utah Broadcasters Associations. Those groups met with FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai to emphasize the impact of freezing translators and LPTV out of a repack. (See “Low-Power TV Stations Hang in Incentive Auction Balance.”)

While no formal proposal has been made to virtually edge out non-Class A LPTVs and translators, neither are eligible to participate in the tentatively scheduled June, 2014 incentive auction. Nor are they guaranteed a channel assignment in the post-auction TV band repacking. Sources inside the Beltway say the commission is considering how those licensees can be excluded from a repack as a way to present more spectrum to Congress for auction.

Opponents to an exclusion plan point out that much of that spectrum would be rural, and therefore next to worthless on the wireless broadband market. There is already ample spectrum in rural areas for wireless broadband. The demand for more spectrum is exclusively in metropolitan and populous areas. Consequently, LPTVs in larger markets are most at risk. TV Technology received feedback from one such broadcaster, “LPTV Canton:”

“We spent in excess of $100,000 to convert our LTPV station from analog 52 to digital 39 in 2011. We were not eligible for the NTIA grant program, as we were not considered rural enough in Canton, Ohio. I had to borrow on a home equity loan on my house to assist in the conversion. We are in an already congested TV spectrum area…. Several of the full-power stations in our market areas will be forced to find a lower channel. There may be no channel available for us to convert to again.”

In its filing today, the NAB re-emphasized its conviction that the commission abandon its plan to split the post-auction spectrum band. The NPRM suggests dividing reclaimed spectrum into 5 MHz blocks, with wireless uplink beginning at Ch. 51—the top end of the current TV band—and extending downward to Ch. 37, now occupied by Radio Astronomy Services and medical telemetry. Wireless downlink would begin at Ch. 36 and extend downward toward the repacked TV band, with a 6 MHz guard band between both up- and downlink bands.

Wireless providers also oppose the split-band plan. AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, Qualcomm and Intel, along with the NAB, sent a letter to FCC Wireless Bureau chief Ruth Milkman in January, recommending the creation of a contiguous band plan starting at Ch. 51 and working down. (See “NAB, Wireless Providers, Agree on Contiguous Repack.”)

“No matter what approach the commission employs, it simply cannot adopt a split or variable band plan,” the NAB said. “Interspersing broadcasters between wireless uplink and downlink operations does not work.”