Julius Genachowski pitches spectrum auctions at NAB


FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski addressed those assembled at the National Association of Broadcasters Show 2011 in Las Vegas, and had kind words for those who bring local broadcast television to consumers. But he also said despite arguments to the contrary, spectrum in the television band is needed, and auctions and channel repacking need to be part of the near future.

Genachowski praised local broadcasters for their leading role in providing news, and in particular, local news, to citizens in their market. He also noted that local television stations are often providers of the top internet source of local news and information in their market.

However, he also noted that there are a lot of stations on the air that do not provide much in the way of local content – and can’t afford to. He said that there are 28 OTA stations in the New York DMA, but only six of them provide any appreciable amount of local news. In Los Angeles, he said only eight out of 23 are doing local news.

“Some stations choose not to invest in this type of content, and some simply can’t – it just doesn’t make economic sense for them. But it does affect any objective of broadcast markets in view of national spectrum needs,” he said.

Genachowski addressed the retransmission negotiation issue. “As you’ve seen over the past year and a half, I’ve resisted calls for FCC intervention and, instead, have encouraged private, market-driven agreements between broadcasters on the one hand, and cable and satellite providers on the other.” He did note the proceeding on the topic which is in progress and encouraged participation from all interested parties.

When it comes to channel repacking, if the auctions are permitted and spectrum is reclaimed, then channel repacking will occur. He said that a licensee does not have to participate in the auction, hanging on to its full 6 MHz swath of spectrum, and keeping the possibility of mobile broadcast in play.

However, it may not be possible for every non-participating broadcaster to stay put exactly where they are.
Genachowski put it this way: “At the same time, however, voluntary can’t mean undermining the potential effectiveness of an auction by giving every broadcaster a new and unprecedented right to keep their exact channel location. This would not only be unprecedented, it would give any one broadcaster veto power over the success of the auction – and be neither good policy for the country, nor fair to the other participants. I should also note that disruption to consumers – and to your brands – will be minimized because the DTV transition has allowed broadcasters to move radio frequencies while keeping their virtual channels the same.”

He offered assurances that broadcasters would be treated fairly and compensated for costs associated with a frequency move.

“I’m confident that, working together, we can resolve relocation issues, as multiple relocation issues have been resolved since the FCC held its first auctions nearly twenty years ago. I’m committed to working with you and Senator Smith on this, as well as being a resource to Congress.”

It should be strongly noted that Genachowski wants to get moving. He stressed the need for speed throughout the speech.

RBR-TVBR observation: The movement to capture television spectrum certainly appears to be picking up steam. Broadcasters will need to present a strong and united front to make sure whatever happens is fair and equitable and leaves over-the-air local broadcast television in a strong and competitive position.