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Gray backs SBG flexible use proposal

Gray Television told the Federal Communications Commission Oct. 21 that it supports Sinclair Broadcast Group’s ex parte comments filed last month urging the agency to make a broad interpretation of the flexible use provision of the Spectrum Act.

In its filing Sept. 4, Sinclair asked the FCC to permit television broadcasters to waive their claim to reimbursement of TV spectrum repack-related expenses in return for the freedom to make “flexible use” of their spectrum for other services, including non-ATSC-standard television.

The Spectrum Act (the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012) establishes a $1.75 billion Broadcast Relocation Fund and ostensibly grants the FCC the power to issue “flexible use” waivers in lieu of expense reimbursement from the fund.

In its ex parte comments filed Monday, Gray Television said granting flexible use waivers should be “prior to any incentive auction, should be available to all stations whether they are facing repacking or not, and should be provided in a streamlined and timely FCC process.”

Saying that it has reviewed the Sinclair flexible use proposal “with great interest,” Gray said the TV industry would benefit if it, Sinclair and other leading broadcasters “had the freedom to innovate further in the free-over-the-air television service.”

“While Gray typically serves smaller markets than does Sinclair, Gray believes that flexible service rules and use of different transmission standards would allow television stations in all market sizes to better serve their local communities,” the Gray filing said.

Gray asserts in the filing that if flexible use waivers are made available and sought by a large number of broadcast licensees, the demands placed on the relocation fund would be greatly reduced.

Gray said it also agrees with Sinclair’s assertion that flexible use waivers will be of little value if they aren’t sought by and granted to lots of licensees.

“A few stations volunteering to forego repacking costs will not make a material dent in repacking reimbursements,” the Gray filing said.

Additionally, without a large number of broadcasters being granted the waivers, service improvements “simply will not materialize,” it said.

Saying it favored the concept of a “standard” waiver that would allow broadcasters to evaluate “the risk/opportunity tradeoffs” before any auction, the Gray filing said such a waiver “should provide more flexibility than would otherwise flow from a new (television) standard.”

Gray also told the FCC the waivers should be made available to all stations, including UHF stations not in spectrum likely to be cleared, as well as VHF stations.

“Congress intended the Spectrum Act to foster the development of new and innovative services as all as to improve core, legacy services,” said the Gray filing. "The FCC should promote this goal as far as it can within its authority.”

It added that post-auction waivers should also be allowed.

Flexible use waivers give Gray and other broadcasters a way to begin planning for “long-term service improvements” without waiting for the FCC to undertake a formal process, the filing added.