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Auctioning BAS spectrum could be detrimental to ENG

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) has warned the FCC that a wireless industry proposal to auction Broadcast Auxiliary Service (BAS) spectrum for mobile use “is essential to broadcasters’ ability to provide critical, real-time news and information.”

The NAB opposes a proposal by CTIA-The Wireless Association (CTIA) that would remove 15MHz of spectrum currently dedicated to BAS operations and reallocate it to the wireless industry. The NAB comments came in an FCC filing by a team lead by Rick Kaplan.

“Contrary to CTIA’s assertions that no other swath of spectrum appropriately meets the requirements under the Spectrum Act, the instant proceeding identifies 25MHz of prime spectrum that does,” the NAB wrote. “Further, the current BAS allocation is essential to broadcasters’ ability to provide critical, real-time news and information and has already been reduced by 35MHz or almost 30 percent (for the Sprint-Nextel deal), while the U.S. wireless industry is currently flush with spectrum and poised to get more. Thus…CTIA’s proposal is unnecessary, misguided and has the potential to significantly harm the American public.”

BAS spectrum is used by broadcasters for electronic newsgathering (ENG) from the field. It also includes studio-to-transmitter links and helicopter remotes.

The FCC’s rulemaking, the NAB said, identifies not only fifteen, but 25MHz of contiguous spectrum at 1755MHz-1780MHz that meets the Commission’s statutory obligation under the law. Thus, by auctioning 1755MHz-1780MHz for “flexible use,” the Commission will, in fact, exceed Congress’s direction and otherwise accomplish the overarching goals of the statute.”

The CTIA offered three reasons why BAS is appropriate spectrum for reallocation. First, it is “below 3GHz;” second, it “is contiguous and adjacent to current allocations;” and third, it “would allow pairing in a readily achievable fashion.”

However, the NAB said, the CTIA position should be rejected because it ignores the value and existing congestion in the BAS band; would, for the first time since completion of the National Broadband Plan, eliminate one active use in favor of another; and the U.S. wireless industry already has vast and vastly unused and likely underutilized spectrum resources.

“Local and national news crews used the entirety of the BAS spectrum to transmit live, up-to-the-minute updates from the scene, while helicopters overhead provided live video seen by millions of viewers,” NAB wrote. “That video was used not just in local newscasts, but also on national broadcast news programs and cable news channels. In fact, the band became so congested that broadcasters were forced to use the much less reliable and less efficient wireless networks for additional news traffic no longer able to be served in the BAS band.”

The NAB advised the FCC that the best and most logical way to meet the Spectrum Act’s requirement to auction 15MHz of contiguous spectrum is to allocate the 25MHz between 1755MHz-1780 MHz as proposed in the rulemaking. “That is the pairing of greatest interest to the wireless industry, gives it a major spectrum windfall and exceeds Congress’s direction to auction 15 additional non-specified megahertz of spectrum for mobile broadband use.”