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Reaction to spectrum bill is mixed

Perhaps realizing that Commerce Committee passage in the Senate is merely a first step in a long legislative process, reaction to last week’s action was less than contentious … from virtually everyone but a coalition of low-power stations.

NAB president Gordon Smith noted there is more work to be done on the bill. “NAB appreciates the hard work of Chairman Rockefeller and ranking member Hutchison in shepherding through today’s legislation,” Smith said.

“As the process moves forward, NAB will work with policymakers to help ensure that broadcasters are able to deliver on the promise of free and local digital television made to tens of millions of viewers.”

Michael Powell, head of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, said “we especially appreciate the committee’s effort to craft a fair framework for reclaiming broadcast spectrum through incentive auctions that will cover costs incurred by cable operators due to channel sharing or repacking and will not expand or extend current carriage obligations.”

CTIA, the wireless association, congratulated Rockefeller for moving his bill forward. “We greatly appreciate the focus the bill places on authorizing incentive auctions and making additional spectrum available for commercial wireless providers. Making additional spectrum available is critical to ensuring that the wireless industry can continue to meet the exploding demand for wireless broadband services and remain a catalyst for economic growth,” said CTIA CEO Steve Largent.

The Consumer Electronics Association called the Senate committee action “a major milestone” in ensuring that the nation’s spectrum is put to the highest use.

“Authorizing the FCC to conduct incentive auctions will result in millions of dollars for the U.S. Treasury, while securing our nation’s wireless future,” said Michael Petricone, senior vice president of governmental affairs. “We urge Congress to move forward on legislation to free up additional spectrum for wireless broadband as expeditiously as possible.”

The American Cable Association was pleased that the bill did not increase cable operators’ TV station carriage obligations. Matthew Polka, the ACA president, said the legislation “at once promotes spectrum efficiency and safeguards the interests of the public safety community.” It also minimizes the impact on small and midsize cable operators that make up his organization’s membership.

The bill included an amendment stating that the white spaces the FCC authorized for use by unlicensed devices would remain available in the post-reclamation TV band. “We are pleased that the Senate Commerce Committee today chose to once again recognize the importance of the ‘white spaces’ to the technological innovation of the country as part of the legislation (S. 911) allocating spectrum for public safety,” said Public Knowledge, a supporter of the FCC’s white spaces initiative.

However, a group of full- and low-power broadcasters (LPTV) said it does not believe the Spectrum Auction bill (SB-911) adequately protects the vast majority of television broadcasters. The Coalition for Free TV and Broadband — made up of hundreds of community broadcast stations, licensees and permitees — said the Senate Committee’s “failure to include any low-power broadcasters in the language of the bill will be the first step in the death of the LPTV industry, which operates more than 7000 television stations and translators across the United States.”

They are upset because Senator Rockefeller called LPTV a “secondary service.”

That comment drew harsh reaction from LPTV owners such as Dr. Paul J. Broyles, president of the International Broadcasting Network (based in Houston) and owner and operator of several stations. who said Rockefeller’s use of the term “secondary” was disingenuous at best.

“As I have noted a number of times in the past, the original meaning of the term ‘secondary’ has been repeatedly distorted over the years to the detriment of our industry,” he said in a prepared statement. “Originally, it meant only that LPTV stations, being the new kids on the block, could not cause interference to NTSC full-power stations or previously-licensed translators.

“As the term is now used,” he added, “secondary means inferior, worthless and temporary — subject to being displaced by any and all new services. The original rationale — that LPTV was an unproven new kid on the block and should therefore be secondary to the older established stations — has not been applied to other new services that have come along.”

A consumer advocate group called the Free Press suggested the bill might not be able to achieve its goals the way it is written. “The legislation currently expresses a clear goal of maintaining adequate unlicensed spectrum, but the bill’s limits on FCC flexibility may make this goal impossible to achieve,” said Matt Wood, the director of Free Press’s Action Fund Policy.

A provision in the bill that requires the first 84MHz of spectrum reclaimed be auctioned for commercial purposes, which means it would not be available for unlicensed use. Free Press said as long as the FCC gets the 120MHz it is hoping for voluntarily from broadcasters, it won’t be an issue. However, the group said it would prefer there not be a mandatory commercial minimum if the FCC gets less spectrum than it is expecting.