FCC opens proceeding on television spectrum


All five FCC commissioners approved a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking which is intended to make more efficient use of the swathe of spectrum currently housing the broadcast television industry. All five took time to mention the importance of broadcast service, but for one it included a lecture and for another it seemed almost an afterthought.

The proceeding will set in motion methods to allow and encourage channel sharing; the incentive auction of space within the spectrum; and the prospects for increasing power for VHF stations that experienced difficulty moving from analog to digital broadcast.

The commissioners all mentioned the value of broadcast television service and the need to protect it.
The Media Bureau’s Alan Stillwell said the proposal would look at channel sharing by two or more broadcast television stations, which would be enabled by rewriting the rules so all participants in such an agreement would retain must carry rights. He said a look at fixing the problem with VHF stations would include the possibility of application of new performance standards for indoor consumer reception antennae. Finally, Stillwell noted that the plank seeks to pave the way for incentive auctions to reclaim and repurpose spectrum in the television band.

NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith reacted to the vote, saying, “NAB has no quarrel with incentive auctions that are truly voluntary. Going forward, we believe policymakers have an obligation to maintain digital TV services currently provided by broadcasters and to allow free TV viewers to benefit from DTV video innovations. NAB will oppose government-mandated signal strength degradations or limitations, and new spectrum taxes that threaten the future of free and local broadcasting.”

In particular, Michael Copps affirmed his strong support for broadcast service, but expressed his disappointment with the poor service to local viewers provided by some. He said that he fully believed that broadcasters could “survive and thrive” well into the future, but cautioned that they would have to make a serious commitment to serving the public interest, with a strong focus on local service. He noted that this was where broadcasters retain a key competitive advantage over other emerging media, and strongly suggested that broadcasters make the most of it.

Copps added that the fact that he is so often disappointed with broadcast stewardship of their piece of spectrum is the only reason he would have any interest whatsoever in seeking spectrum in the broadcast band for some other service.

Chairman Julius Genachowski also affirmed support for broadcasters, but spent most of his comment time talking about services of the future rather than the value of what already is. He did mention that the process to move from analog to digital television broadcast took 20 years and said we do not have that much time when it comes to the pressing need for more broadband spectrum.

Genachowski said one of the goals of the proceeding was to make the Commission ready to hit the ground running, particularly when it comes to auctions, should Congress provide the authority to hold them.

RBR-TVBR observation: Commissioner Copps is often seen as a scold when it comes to broadcasters, but the plus side of that is the fact that like a parent with a talented but perhaps wayward child, he does see the importance and the value of the medium. While many are ready to write off broadcasting as hopelessly 20th Century, perhaps even the current FCC chairman, Copps cares very deeply about the medium, and you have to love that.

And Copps is absolutely correct that the core competitive attribute held by broadcasters is their ability to reach a mass local audience. Copps is absolutely correct that broadcasters should defend and utilize that advantage every day and in every way possible.