Local television groups tell the FCC that any new national broadband plan should not include reallocating broadcast TV spectrum. They cite the many valuable, new uses stations are putting their spectrum to.
TV broadcasters sent a strong message to the FCC today: Don’t take our spectrum away.
Many of the nation’s top local TV broadcasters filed comments at the agency urging the FCC not to endorse a national broadband plan that would reallocate TV broadcast spectrum for wireless broadband use.
The outpouring came from all corners of the industry — from O&O groups like ABC and Fox, from other major groups comprising network affiliates like Hearst Television and Belo and from small groups like Lilly Broadcasting and Smith Media. Some were filed jointly, some individually.
Some came in the form of formal comments prepared by communications law firms; others, as letters from the head of the major station groups like Post-Newsweek, Gannett and Raycom Media.
It was all aimed at discouraging the FCC from recommending to Congress that all of some broadcast spectrum be shifted to wireless broadband use. The agency is considering such a move as part of its inquiry into making broadband access in the country faster, cheaper and more widely available.
One idea floating around the commission suggests broadcasters consider returning their spectrum in exchange for a share in the billions of dollars that would come from the auction of their spectrum to the wireless industry.
But broadcasters want to hang on to their spectrum.
They argued that they are putting their spectrum to good use by providing a public service that cannot be duplicated by wireless broadband services.
Belo Broadcasting urged the FCC to consider the “extensive public interest benefits that television broadcasters have provided for more than half a century, the enormous investment that broadcasters and consumers have made to upgrade to digital service, and the real potential that broadcasters have to further improve their program offerings and public service in the digital era.”
Hearst Television says it is “not only premature, but shortsighted, to begin to contemplate stripping television stations of spectrum to provide that spectrum for speculative future needs, when other spectrum either lies fallow or is underutilized and when the totality of television broadcast spectrum, 294 MHz, scattered over a variety of bands (low VHF, high VHF and UHF) is but a fraction of the claimed spectrum needs of the would-be licensee of this scarce resource,” wrote Hearst Television in its comments to the FCC.
Hearst also pointed out the group has spent more than $120 million converting to digital technology.
The station groups say they are putting their spectrum to good use by providing new multicast channels.
Several Hearst stations broadcast the new Estrella TV Spanish-language programming service on multicast channels.
“Each of these television markets has a significant population of viewers of Hispanic or Latino origin, and the multicast channel allows Hearts’s stations to meet the needs of this community at the same time that they are broadcasting programming that may appeal to different audiences on their primary channels,” Hearst wrote.
The TV station groups also highlighted their commitment to news and public affairs programming.
Hearst stations produce more than 750 hours per week of regularly scheduled news and public affairs programming, according to their comments.
Belo said it has 15 stations that produce original local newscasts, and most of these stations regularly offer 30 hours or more per week of local news programming.
The broadcasters emphasized the important role local TV stations play in providing emergency information.
“The extensive coverage of Hurricane Katrina provided by Belo station WWL-TV New Orleans, in 2005 provides a quintessential example of unmatched efforts that broadcasters make to serve their communities in times of crisis,” wrote Belo.
The comments also discussed the development of mobile TV.
“Mobile TV has the potential to expand many of the public interest benefits associated with fixed -base digital television,” wrote Belo.
As the Hearst Television comments made clear: “These existing services, which approximately half of all viewers watch at any given instant, and newer services, such as mobile TV, simply cannot subsist on reduced spectrum.”
“Television broadcasting represents the highest and best use of the spectrum in the public interest,” says The Local Television Broadcasters, a coalition of 24 broadcast TV stations groups who also filed comments at the FCC.
The coalition includes Allbritton Communications,McGraw-Hill Broadcasting, Bahakel Communications, Media General, Boise Telecasters, Meredith, Cocola Broadcasting, National Communications, Communications Corp. of America, New Vision Television, Evening Post Publishing Co., Parkin Broadcasting, GOCOM Media of Illinois, SJL Broadcast Management Corp., Granite Broadcasting, Smith Media, Gray Television, SP Television, Lilly Broadcasting, Tribune, Local TV, White Knight Broadcasting, Malara Broadcast Group and WNAC.
They warned that clearing the broadcast spectrum will disrupt most consumers’ ability to receive broadcast programming by cable or satellite services.
That’s because, “most cable and satellite customers receive broadcast programming from headends that in turn receive broadcast signals over the air rather than through fiber connections.”
According to a survey of those local station groups: “Most stations report that between 25 percent and 75 percent of the households in their markets receive broadcast programming directly off-air or indirectly through pay-TV providers who themselves receive broadcast signals off-air.”
Furthermore, the cost to deliver broadcast programming to each cable and satellite headend without using a station’s over-the air spectrum “would be immense,” say the local TV broadcasters.
Elected officials and political candidates “overwhelmingly recognize the value of local broadcast advertising as the best means to reach their local constituents and potential voters,” according to the broadcasters.
“Local television broadcasters provide tremendous value to their communities, and, with the ability to offer innovative services like mobile DTV and multicasting — which gives consumers access to many pristine program streams without paying subscription fees — they will be able to provide even greater value in the future.
“Forcing television broadcasters to eliminate or reduce these services would be a detriment to local communities, would contradict commission decisions made barely a decade ago, and would eliminate the wireless industries’ most serious competitive threat.”
In addition to formal comments, at least eight TV broadcast groups sent letters to the FCC defending their use of the spectrum and identifying the numerous ways their stations serve the public.
“There really is no question that our programming helps save lives, both in its news, weather and emergency coverage and in our local feature programming as well,” writes David Lougee, president of Gannett Broadcasting.
He adds: “Each year, KUSA-TV Denver airs coverage of a local health fair that provides screenings to those in need. Thousands get medical treatment that they would not otherwise be able to afford for treatable diseases and illness.”
The letters also discussed the potential of mobile DTV.
“Our audiences demand mobility, and we see mobile DTV as a means to provide a new level of local service,” says Alan Frank president of Post-Newsweek Stations.
He also asks the agency to consider digital TV and mobile DTV as part of the family of mobile broadband offerings.
According to Frank: “The point-to-multipoint service provided by mobile DTV will combine the programming expertise of local broadcasters with a robust DTV standard that puts the power of information into the pocket of every viewer with a mobile receiver.”
Raycom Media’s letter underscores the importance of using spectrum for multicasting.
Digital multicast channels are one of the only places — if not the only place — viewers can see high school football games and other special events in Raycom’s markets, says Raycom Media’s Paul McTear.
“Across Raycom, we provide more than 50 multicast channels to our communities including more than 25 weather-oriented local multicast channels and 16 This-TV channels that combine national entertainment programming with significant amounts of local news programming,” adds McTear.
Other TV groups sending letters to the FCC included: Barrington, Dispatch. Draper, Gray and Landmark.
Large station groups like the ABC and Fox O& Os told the FCC how they are putting their spectrum to good use.
ABC highlighted the development of its new Live Well HD Network which is broadcast as a multicast channel by ABC stations covering 24 percent of the nation.
Some ABC stations also air local programming on their second DTV channel including local sports, local public affairs and election results.
“WLS in Chicago will be hosting no less than six debates between candidates for various offices during next year’s primary election season and will be running them live on its second digital channel,” says the ABC comments.
Viewers like the new multicast channels.
According to ABC, in Houston, during the November 2009 sweeps period, more than eight percent of households tuned into KTRK’s second channel. And in Los Angeles and Chicago, more than five percent of households watched KABC’s and WLS’s second channel.
On behalf of its Fox O&Os, News Corp. told the FCC that it uses most of its broadcast spectrum to deliver high-definition programming.
But a mobile content delivery platform is also in the works.
“With the remaining broadcast spectrum, we plan within the next two years to roll out a robust, innovative offering on this mobile content delivery platform,” says News Corp.
“This offering is slated to include local and national, print and video, news, sports and entertainment content that would be delivered to a variety of mobile devices including potentially, smart phones, e-readers, laptops and net books.”
News Corp. maintains that broadcasters can be part of the mobile broadband solution.
“The benefits to the public of broadband+broadcast are obvious: it promises hands down the greatest potential for transporting the greatest amount of information and entertainment to consumers in the most efficient manner possible. It also offers the potential to breathe new life into many of the nation’s newspaper, book and magazine publishers, by providing them with an innovative new platform for delivering journalism.”