NAB to Lawmakers: No Ordinary Repack

WASHINGTON — The post-incentive auction TV channel repack will not resemble the one completed for the 2009 digital transition, according to Rick Kaplan of the National Association of Broadcasters.

“The DTV transition will be a walk in the part compared to the repacking process that is part and parcel of this auction,” Kaplan said in written testimony prepared for a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Tuesday. “The final channel changes of the DTV transition involved the FCC repacking only about 100 stations.* Both viewers and broadcasters had more than five years to prepare for the change, and each station had a second channel on which to ensure a smooth transition.”

The incentive auction repack could displace as many as 500 stations, which will have to flash-cut to a new frequency with as little delay as possible. The shift will require precise coordination with pay TV providers and a well-informed audience.

The full Commerce Committee announced the hearing on the incentive auctions the day before the Federal Communications Commission chairman, Tom Wheeler, said the event would be delayed by a year to mid-2015. Wheeler, who was confirmed as chairman in late October, released the information in a blog entry that reflected some of the concerns expressed by Kaplan and other NAB reps in ex parte meetings at the commission.

Kaplan and his team went to the FCC’s engineering division with objections over the use of “proxy” channels to estimate coverage for stations displaced by the incentive auction, when the top frequencies of the TV spectrum will be sold to wireless providers. He is bringing the same concern before the Commerce Committee.

“Rather than measuring the actual interference a station will receive from another station on the channel it will operate on after repacking, the FCC will choose a different ‘proxy’ channel to measure interference,” his testimony states. “This kind of approximation, however, cuts corners and could result in a service loss or gain in a significantly large number of instances.”

He brought a warning of the inevitable phone calls should regulators get the process wrong.

“Your constituents will have no idea whether their wireless provider acquired an extra 10 MHz in the auction to add to its 135 MHz in their market, but I can guarantee they will start dialing your phone numbers when they are suddenly no longer able to receive the broadcast television stations they’ve relied upon for years, if not decades.”

Kaplan reiterated the need for a new spectrum agreement with Canada and Mexico. Without one, he said, stations could not be repacked within 150 miles of the Mexican border an 250 miles of the Canadian border. He also put a plug in for the protection of low-power TV stations and translators.

Kaplan is testifying alongside Gary Epstien, head of the FCC’s Incentive Auction Task Force and special advisor to Wheeler; John Marsh, vice president of regulatory affairs for AT&T; Hal Singer, senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute; Steven K. Berry, president and CEO of the Competitive Carriers Association; Harold Feld, senior vice president of Public Knowledge; and Preston Padden, executive director of Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition—a group of station owners who wish to sell their spectrum.

Padden distributed his prepared testimony before Wheeler announced the delay. In it, he said the commission had not yet attracted enough TV stations participants to make it successful. Padden advocates for monetizing “a station’s spectrum based on the higher values present in the wireless industry.” He opposes the FCC’s proposal to “score” stations based on population served, and restricting participation by Verizon and AT&T, as some have suggested. Smaller carriers want bidding restrictions on the big boys in order to have a fighting chance at spectrum.

Padden also suggests that stations electing to share a 6 MHz channel (though few have come forth) be given relief on covering their market of license. He also said stations would be more likely to participate in the auction if they had some idea where the bids would begin and when they would have to cease operating on relinquished spectrum.

“The sooner the FCC can make his information available, the sooner more stations will be seriously able to evaluate auction participation,” he said.

* Around 190 stations were operating digitally in Chs. 52-69, the 700 MHz TV spectrum auctioned to wireless providers in 2008. Of those, around 90 returned to their original analog assignments below Ch. 52, while 100 had to be relocated.

December 6, 2013,
Wheeler Delays Spectrum Auction Until 2015
“Getting the right policy and procedures for the auction is only half the job,” he said. “For the incentive auction to be a success, we must also ensure that the operating systems and software to run it work from the moment the first bid is placed, until the final broadcast station is relocated or ‘repacked.’”

December 2, 2013, “
NAB Challenges FCC’s ‘Reasonable Effort.’”
The FCC is proposing the use of “proxy” channels in calculating the reach of TV stations relocated after next June’s spectrum incentive auction. The National Association of Broadcasters says doing so would violate the Congressional directive that “all reasonable effort” be made to preserve coverage.