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SBE president blasts Genachowski over Broadcast Engineering Forum

The president of the Society of Broadcast Engineers last week called on the chairman of the FCC to scrap how it plans to conduct an upcoming forum looking at broadcast spectrum issues and open the entire event to public participation or, alternately, to postpone the event until a “broader and more representative group of broadcast engineers” can be assembled.

In an open letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski dated June 17, SBE President Vincent Lopez expressed “dismay and serious concern” over the exclusion of the SBE from the Broadcast Engineering Forum scheduled for June 25. Participants in four separate working groups meeting during the forum will investigate specific proposals to free up DTV spectrum to meet commission goals for future wireless broadband service and to improve viewer DTV reception.

In the letter, Lopez said that by June 9, when the FCC issued a notice that the forum would be held, it already had invited all of its participants, which excluded SBE representatives. When the SBE approached the Media Bureau and Office of Engineering and Technology about not being invited, the society’s representatives were told the list of the participants already had been “firmed up,” the letter said.

“Given the extensive record that SBE has of interaction with the Commission, and given the fact that SBE is the one organization chartered to represent the interests of broadcast engineers, it was a surprise that no one directly associated with or representative of SBE was contacted about this forum, or invited to participate,” the letter said.

In the letter, Lopez said the commission told the SBE that individuals — not broader organizations — had been invited to participate. However, the list of forum participants reveals several representatives from organizations such as the NAB, the Association for Maximum Service Television and broadcast networks. According to Lopez, “the broadcast owners are being represented on this panel, but not broadcast engineers.”

Media Bureau staff responsible for organizing the forum “at best … did so in a manner that is not conducive to an effective study of the four major topics up for discussion: cellularization of broadcast architecture; methodologies for repacking the TV band; improvements in VHF reception; and advancements in compression technology,” the letter said.

“At worst, it appears that the participants in the panel were chosen in order to provide the commission with the appearance of an industry consensus, evidencing a predetermined outcome: the reclamation of a large amount of spectrum utilized currently for free, over-the-air TV service, and for the broadcast auxiliary facilities that are critical to the creation of content for broadcast, cablecast and satellite video delivery to the public, in favor of an auction of that broadcast, and broadcast auxiliary spectrum for broadband use,” it said.

The letter also objected to the process to be used during the forum. Plans call for each of the four separate working groups to work in private prior to reporting publicly in the afternoon on what they have concluded. The work material developed during those sessions may be used to inform the commission as it weighs options for what to do with DTV spectrum.

“This procedure … is entirely contrary to the ‘transparency’ in commission processes that you specifically promised, and President Obama promised for government operations generally, at the beginning of the present administration and at the beginning of your tenure. Candidly, we expected better,” the letter said.

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.