Reclaiming TV spectrum far from a done deal


FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski made his pitch to broadcasters at the NAB Show to embrace his National Broadband plan and its proposal to reallocate 120MHz of TV spectrum. But a few hours later, even his fellow commissioners were expressing misgivings about how that may play out.

Three of the commissioners, Michael Copps (D), Mignon Clyburn (D) and Meredith Baker (R) joined NTIA Administrator and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce Anna Gomez in the Washington Face-Off panel moderated by NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith.

Noting his experience as a US Senator, Smith said it seemed unlikely to him that the US congress would ever vote to allow broadcasters who voluntarily surrender spectrum to participate in the auction proceeds from a government auction of spectrum that the broadcasters had not paid for in the first place.

That brought agreement from Copps, who had a long career as Chief of Staff for then-Senator Ernest Hollings (D-SC) before joining the FCC. Copps also didn’t think much of the idea of broadcasters leasing out a portion of their spectrum for wireless broadband use, except maybe in limited cases. “To my mind that spectrum is dedicated to broadcasting with public service obligations,” Copps said, so he doesn’t want it to be used for other purposes.

If the voluntary spectrum auction plan were to become reality, Clyburn worried that minority and female station owners might be the first to sell, “further shrinking an embarrassingly small marketplace.”

“We can’t afford to lose any more,” agreed Copps.

Baker is far from sold on the whole idea. She said it is important to move ahead on a spectrum plan, but at this point she doesn’t know whether 120MHz is the right number or not. She was receptive, though, to Smith’s suggestion of broadcasters leasing some of their spectrum. “I’m a big fan of secondary markets,” she said.

Copps, it should be noted, may have misgivings about certain details, but he is a strong advocate of moving quickly to implement the National Broadband Plan. “I don’t think we have any time to waste on this,” he said.