Sinclair Calls for Spectrum Inventory

BALTIMORE: Sinclair Broadcasting is intensifying its opposition to proposed incentive auctions of broadcast TV spectrum. The company today called on lawmakers to conduct a full spectrum inventory before authorizing the Federal Communications Commission to hold incentive auctions. The commission’s National Broadband Plan intends to reclaim 120 MHz of TV spectrum through voluntary auctions, to be used for wireless broadband. 

“The proposal in Congress to auction a 120 MHz portion of the broadcast television spectrum would disenfranchise millions of Americans, seriously damage local TV and raise meager revenues for the U.S. budget deficit,” the Sinclair folks said.

Mark Aitken, vice president of Advanced Technology for Sinclair said 46 million Americans rely exclusively on over-the-air TV. 

“It is the only reliable medium everyone uses during catastrophes when the cable goes out and the satellite dishes have blown off roofs,” he said. “America cannot get this back after it is sold. Congress should postpone any auction considerations until after a thorough spectrum audit is completed.” 

Sinclair is espousing an alternative to the incentive auction scheme. The company is proposing that broadcasters provide an overlay service for carrying excess video traffic when wireless networks are overloaded. This would provide an ongoing source of revenue for the government versus a one-time haul from the auctions, because of a 5 percent levy on any revenue-generating service a broadcaster provides that’s not related to delivering TV programming. 

Should 120 MHz--40 percent of the spectrum dedicated to TV channels--be reclaimed, Sinclair said all nine of Detroit’s local TV stations would go off the air because of a treaty agreement with Canada. At least half of the TV stations in 22 markets would be bumped off in the resulting repacking. An estimated 131 TV stations would be forced off the air, Sinclair says. 

The company says that rather than the “looming spectrum crisis,” often cited by auction proponents, there is instead “spectrum management failure.” It says that the 108 MHz of spectrum returned by TV stations after the 2009 DTV transition remains unused. The government itself controls the biggest chunk of the most-desired spectrum. 

“Congress should pass legislation mandating a thorough spectrum audit and formulate a national spectrum policy before it proceeds with any auction considerations,” the company said. 

Sinclair owns and/or operates 65 TV stations in 39 markets.