At CES 2013, NAB says FCC should take its time on spectrum auction

The wireless industry, reacting to the spectrum crunch, has reorganized itself to address the shortage — giving the FCC more time before incentive auctions are necessary, a CES panel was told by an NAB operative.

Former FCC Wireless Bureau chief Rick Kaplan, who left the commission last spring, is now executive vice president of strategic planning at the NAB. He was one of several industry executives to address CES on spectrum issues.

Kaplan said the commission should not hurry the auction — which he said would be counterproductive and unnecessary — and first should solve the border issues with Mexico and Canada. The FCC, Kaplan’s old boss, is pushing to hold the auctions next year.

Kaplan also questioned whether channel sharing would work — an option given to broadcasters who sell their spectrum.

The former wireless chief, now pushing the NAB’s agenda, suggested that the FCC back off of the 2014 goal, saying he does not think talks with Canada and Mexico on border coordination can be concluded by that date.

He also speculated that stations in most major markets will command a higher price than the FCC can pay.

Charla Rath, vice president of wireless policy development for Verizon, agreed with Kaplan that the industry has some time, but said the spectrum crunch is still an urgent matter. A delay, she said, could mean spectrum is not available when the industry needs it.

Mark Fratrik, vice president and chief economist for BIA Kelsey, said repacking of stations is so complex it makes his “hair hurt.” If a station in market seven opts out in the third round, he said, that would affect all 30 stations along the Eastern seaboard, he noted.

“Repacking is going to be really challenging,” Fratrik said.

Bill Lake, the FCC’s Media Bureau Chief, weathering the NAB and industry arguments, said the commission still wants a 2014 auction, noting that was partly based on the prediction that 2015 would be a crunch year for the spectrum shortage.

The FCC's goal, he said, is to keep the complexity in-house and make it as easy as possible for broadcasters to assess their options. For some broadcasters, he said, the opportunity to contribute spectrum to the auction, help meet the demand for broadband and share in the proceeds from the auction “may be very attractive,” and they could emerge “stronger than ever.”