National Broadband Plan on the way, TV in the way

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The FCC is set to deliver its National Broadband Plan to Congress, and one of the goals is to find 500 MHz of spectrum within 10 years, and 300 MHz within five. The FCC is planning to try to get 120 MHz of that from broadcast television. The NAB is OK with that part of the plan as long as it remains voluntary. It worries, however, that the current voluntary status may not hold.


The FCC is planning to use incentives and other mechanisms to repurposes spectrum, primarily auctioning off returned spectrum and allowing the returnee to share in the proceeds. The FCC is also is said to be considering imposition of spectrum fees on incumbent licensees, a negative incentive for a licensee to agree to an auction.

The NAB is OK with the plan as long as it remains voluntary. It worries, however, that the current voluntary status may not hold.

NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton commented, “NAB intends to work with the FCC and Congress to build a communications system that benefits all Americans. We will examine closely the details of the National Broadband Plan, and encourage Members of Congress to do the same.”

Wharton pointed out that television, which uses one signal to reach many receivers, is a highly efficient user of spectrum, and continued, “We were pleased by initial indications from FCC members that any spectrum reallocation would be voluntary, and were therefore prepared to move forward in a constructive fashion on that basis. However, we are concerned by reports today that suggest many aspects of the plan may in fact not be as voluntary as originally promised. Moreover, as the nation’s only communications service that is free, local and ubiquitous, we would oppose any attempt to impose onerous new spectrum fees on broadcasters.”

Wharton concluded, “Finally, we strongly support congressional efforts to conduct an inventory of all available spectrum, and believe that no reallocation plan should move forward without a complete accounting of how the airwaves are allocated, licensed and used.”

According to Reuters, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is saying that there are broadcasters out there who are willing to sell. “We’ve certainly heard from a number of broadcasters who have told us that this is a promising direction and (they) are getting ready to roll up their sleeves with us,” he said, while not offering any specifics.

RBR-TVBR observation: Regardless of the situation with the economy, this is no time to scrimp on the provision of excellent local service. There can be no doubt that television broadcasters are going to be making basic existential arguments in the very near future, and nothing will make the case better than an enthusiastic, supportive, well-served local audience.

We would also suggest that the vast potential of digital mobile over-the-air television for informing and uniting and local community during times of crisis when other media often disappear should be developed and put into place as soon as possible.