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SBE Reps Added to FCC Broadcast Spectrum Forum

When the FCC released its list of invitees to its Broadcast Engineering Forum, the Society of Broadcast Engineers (SBE) was very upset that none of its representatives were included.

In an open letter to FCC Chairman Genachowski dated June 17, 2010. SBE executive direction John Poray voiced his displeasure:

“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 television 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,” Poray said. “In fact, the 'blueprint' for this predetermined outcome was just released in the form of the Commission’s omnibus broadband initiative spectrum analysis.”

SBE's letter resulted in the FCC contacting SBE and inviting its participation in the June 25 Broadcast Engineering Forum.

Representing the SBE will be national vice president and SBE’s representative to ATSC, Ralph Hogan, CPBE, DRB, CBNT, associate general manager, Rio Salado College Division of Public Service in Tempe, Ariz.; and Joseph Snelson, CPBE, 8-VSB, member of the SBE national Board of Directors and Vice President and Director of Engineering, Meredith Broadcast Group, Las Vegas.

Unfortunately, while I'm very happy that SBE will be taking part in the forum, I’m very concerned that SBE’s original assessment of the purpose of the forum will turn out to be correct. I think real progress could be made if the FCC were willing to back off from taking 120 MHz—half the usable broadcast TV spectrum—and consider other alternatives that might provide somewhat less—maybe even slightly less—spectrum without depriving the public of free off-air HDTV content, multicast channels serving numerous ethnic and special interest groups, and mobile DTV.

Broadcasters have spectrum above 700 MHz but below 3,000 MHz that might be usable for wireless broadband, but reallocating that spectrum for use by commercial wireless carriers could be made difficult by earlier FCC decisions to share that spectrum with many other services, including the U.S. Department of Defense.

Given the biased, incomplete and, in many cases, inaccurate data in the FCC's Spectrum Analysis: Options for Broadcasting OBI Technical Paper No. 3 I discussed last week, I fear the attendees, the most respected engineers in TV broadcasting today, will be told that half of the usable broadcast spectrum is going to be sold to the wireless companies, and that “we’ve promised the public that this will not impact their ability to get free TV programming, including HDTV and Mobile DTV—it’s your responsibility to figure out how to make it work.”

It's clear from OBI Technical Paper No. 3 that the FCC's plan won't work, and it’s hard for me to see how Chairman Genachowski can keep his promises and still take away half the usable TV channels. However, after the forum is over, the FCC will be in a position to blame the broadcasters for not finding a way to do the impossible, rather than taking the blame for its flawed proposal.

I really hope I'm wrong on this one.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.