NAB: FCC Broadband Plan Would Kill Stations

A new analysis of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan by the National Association of Broadcasters finds that a minimum of 210 full-power TV stations could go dark and that 40% of all TV stations in U.S. could either leave the business or be assigned a new channel. It also says stations in the top 10 markets could be severely impacted, with "Northern Border" stations in Detroit, Buffalo, Cleveland and Seattle threatened. NAB calls on the FCC to immediately make public its analyses of the plan's potential negative impact on viewers of free and local television.

The National Association of Broadcasters released a study today warning that the FCC’s proposal to reallocate 120 MHz of broadcast TV spectrum for wireless broadband uses could lead to a major disruptions for viewers as well as force at least 210 full-power stations in the top 61 TV markets to go off the air.

NAB President Gordon Smith says the study was released to inform members of Congress about the potential impact of the FCC’s spectrum reallocation plan.

Smith says because the FCC has “withheld” releasing details of its models that would show how the agency intends to repack the TV band to accommodate its reallocation proposal, the NAB conducted its own study.

The results of the study were revealed today at an NAB press briefing.

Smith says NAB keeps “asking” the FCC for repacking models but that “we are not getting it.’’

In a statement issued after the briefing, Smith points out that NAB has “waited patiently for over a year for FCC data on how the Broadband Plan impacts broadcasters.’’


“Even Congress can’t get information from the FCC. All we are seeking is more transparency. We have but one chance to get this right if we are to preserve future innovation for broadcasters and our viewers,” says Smith in that statement.

In April, FCC Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake was promising that repacking models would be out in the “next few months.”

(When an FCC representative was asked after the briefing when those repacking models would be available, TVNewsCheck  was told that a specific date was not yet available).

During NAB’s press briefing, Smith said it was important that Congress see NAB’s study before it votes on any legislation that would authorize the FCC to conduct incentive auctions of broadcast TV spectrum.

“We think lawmakers are simply owed the facts as they take votes that will profoundly affect their constituents,” Smith says.

If the FCC’s reallocation plan is adopted it would “do tremendous damage to broadcasting,” Smith says.

According to the NAB, 672 full-power stations, 209 Class A stations and 3,214 LPTV/ translators would be adversely impacted by the reallocation proposal. Those broadcasters would be forced to move to a lower channel position, NAB says.

It also claims the FCC’s reallocation plan would affect at least 256 stations affiliated with the Big Four broadcast networks — somewhere between 24% and 35% of those affiliates would have to move to a different channel position.

NAB also says 106 public TV stations would be potentially uprooted from their current channel assignments.

A significant number of broadcasters affiliated with other networks will also be affected,  including 66% of the affiliates of MyNetworkTV, 53% of CW, 70% of Ion, 73% of Telemundo, 58% of Telefutura and 53% of Trinity Network.

It also says that 52% of independent, full-power TV stations would have to move.

Other key points in NAB’s study:

  • Top Ten TV markets would be dramatically impacted by the FCC proposal, with 73 stations in the largest ten markets going off the air.
  • More than half of all TV stations would likely need to disrupt service for millions of viewers for a few hours up to a few weeks to accommodate repositioning of those TV channels “repacked” into a lower channel assignment.
  • Americans living in cities along the Canadian border would bear extra burdens because of international treaty obligations designed to minimize interference between Canadian and U.S. cities. Under the FCC NBP, all Detroit TV stations could go dark. Other border cities that could face severe disruptions and loss of service include Buffalo, Seattle, Syracuse, Cleveland, Spokane, Rochester and Watertown, NY and Flint, Mich.

The FCC took exception to the NAB study’s conclusions. “NAB’s study misses the fact that an incentive auction will be market-driven and voluntary,” a commission spokeswoman said in a statement. “Our proposal will not shut down hundreds of stations; it will open up massive innovation and investment. It has twin benefits: it will help broadcasters interested in participating and unleash much needed spectrum — a key ingredient to meeting the demands of the mobile revolution. Rather than engage in scare tactics, we urge NAB to work with us to achieve our shared legislative objectives to maintain a strong over-the-air broadcasting service.”

Last March, as part of its massive National Broadband Plan for expanding the broadband infrastructure in the U.S., the FCC proposed recovering 40% of broadcast  TV spectrum — 120 MHz of 300 MHz — so that it could make it available for what it believes is the higher purpose of sustaining smart phones, iPads and other broadband mobile uses.

The FCC expects to recover the most broadcast spectrum by encouraging channel sharing, in which stations would voluntarily double up (or even triple up) on a single 6 MHz TV channel.

A bill (S.911) is pending in the Senate that would permit the FCC to auction TV spectrum that broadcasters voluntarily give up. To entice broadcasters to volunteer spectrum, the legislation would allow them to take a share of the auction proceeds.

Smith also pointed out that there is still the “potential’’ for incentive auction language to be attached to the critical debt-ceiling bill that could be adopted this week.

“If we are part of the debt ceiling, we don’t oppose that so long as we are given the protections of our contours, of our innovative opportunities, and the repacking costs are covered,” he says.

“NAB endorses truly voluntary spectrum auctions,” Smith says. “Our concern is that the FCC plan will morph into involuntary, because it is impossible for the FCC to meet spectrum reclamation goals without this becoming a government mandate.”

NAB is working on Capitol Hill to make sure that any incentive auction legislation includes a sunset on the FCC’s authority to repurpose broadcast spectrum; a ban on spectrum fees; provisions preventing forced relocation to an inferior channel assignment or diminished service areas; and assurances that stations have enough spectrum to deliver full HDTV and provide new services like multicasting and mobile HDTV.

The Consumer Electronics Association and CTIA-The Wireless Association, which are chief  proponents of the FCC’s spectrum reallocation plan, immediately attacked NAB’s study.

LIke the FCC, CTIA accused the NAB of using “scare tactics.”

The NAB “study sets up and knocks down a purely fictional straw man,” CEA said. “The study presumes an unrealistic scenario in which every single existing TV station continues to operate over-the-air.’’

Comments (31)

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Ellen Samrock says:

July 25, 2011 at 1:57 pm

The reason for the FCC’s reluctance to release repacking models is closely tied to the reason why they still haven’t given Congress a spectrum inventory: it would make it glaringly apparent that the Obama administration has been lying–both about the need for more spectrum for wireless broadband and the degree of impact spectrum reclamation would have on the broadcast industry.

    Jill Colvin & Catherine Lucey says:

    July 25, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    Actually it is the “Right wing” that is driving this spectrum handout to the big phone and data companies, not Obama. The FCC has long been in the pockets of big business and against local TV. The right wants every hooked to cable to be able to control the news messages. Once there is no longer any OTA, then the bigger MSO’s will just drop the voices that lean to the middle or the left. Obama is the least connected president we’ve had in decades to the communications issues, but admittedly he has his hands full with the economy and two unwinable wars.

    Ellen Samrock says:

    July 25, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    Just Google “White House and National Broadband Plan” or “Obama and NBP” and you will see a wealth of links to information that ties both the president and his staff to touting the plan and the need for more spectrum. In fact, Obama appointee, FCC Chairman Genachowski, openly criticized the NAB study today, calling it “a scare tactic.” Right wing conspiracy or not, Obama & Co. have a lot to answer for in lying to members of Congress and the public about the NBP.

    Peter Grewar says:

    July 25, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    There’s some truth to what both TVJunkie and D BP are claiming — the concepts involved in this scheme to reallocate TV spectrum to “more economically efficient” uses comes straight out of the writings of right wing think tanks from about twenty years ago. But it’s a right wing meme that has been aggressively embraced by Obama’s FCC, which means that Obama does have to take the blame for it.

    len Kubas says:

    July 26, 2011 at 1:44 am

    No, this comes from a Roald Coase (who I had the pleasure to meet three decades ago) essay from 1958. It would be simplistic to call Mr. Coase or Thomas Hazlett “right wingers.”

Christina Perez says:

July 25, 2011 at 2:27 pm

NAB and TvB should point out that more and more Americans are foreswearing cable TV in favor of using over-the-air TV as their main source of network programming, supplemented by services such as Netflix and Hulu, which offer cable network shows on demand. The broadband greedsters know this — why they are trying to kill off free, universal, full-HD over-the-air TV. These robber barons have allies in government, agencies and homeland/military units that seek to reclaim the UHF band for adomestic electromagnetic weapon system, mounted on cell towers, that are targeting U.S. citizens extrajudicially persecuted as “dissidents” or undesirables, says this veteran journalist:

    len Kubas says:

    July 25, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    tv in the us — as, say compared to the UK — really isn’t universal. The entire population isn’t covered, and can never be due to sparseness, size, terrain and scale.

mike tomasino says:

July 25, 2011 at 2:59 pm

AT&T and Verizon are the fastest growing multi-channel video providers in America. They are also the two providers who will buy up most of any spectrum that goes to auction. Anyone knowledgable of the situation has to know that if broadcast TV is left alone that MCV penetration is going to go down. For years cable networks have piggybacked on the fact that Americans wanted better reception of their local channels. Now, the best picture quality for local stations comes over the air. Plus, you get the benefit of multi-cast channels. The cable networks really don’t add that much value. Constant reruns of off net programming and the same three movies over and over again just doesn’t warrant a $70+ per month bill. So, it is completely understandable why certain people want to kill off free TV. On the other hand, if broadcasters are able to lock in there spectrum this time around (one time auction and truely voluntary participation) the future of free over the air broadcast TV is very bright.

Gregg Palermo says:

July 25, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Who’s being greedy if only 8 percent of homes even use the spectrum to receive TV signals? Give it up. 210 stations is a drop in the bucket.

    Robert Crookham says:

    July 25, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    Do you really believe that if you continue telling the same lie, that it will somehow become true? You refuse to acknowledge the fact that many cable and DBS providers all across the country receive their broadcast signals OFF THE AIR. There are no magic fiber links between broadcasters and cable and satellite headends outside the largest ADI’s. Your 8% number is more like 60-70% when you take that into account. Given that it is cost-prohibitive to connect every rural cable operator with fiber from the broadcasters cities of license, this proposal would have a serious, negative impact on local broadcasting. Maybe if you stopped using the Josef Goebbels school of propaganda, you might realize that.

    Christina Perez says:

    July 25, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    That’s all that the Lockheed Martin cyber-spying and spamming agit-propaganda machine (paid for with U.S. TAXPAYER DOLLARS) knows. Read this:

    mike tomasino says:

    July 25, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    And given that the 8% OTA only is what CEA wants people to believe, while both Knowledge Networks and SNL Kagen show the number at 15 or 16% and growing. SNL Kagen is projecting it to be like 25% by the end of 2015… By the way, successful cord cutting = OTA + OTT not OTT only.

Susan Montoya Bryan says:

July 25, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Par for the course for the Obama administration. They tend to do things behind people’s back and that way ram laws that otherwise would not pass.
Has anyone done a study of where these stations are? I would say they are mostly located in traditional Republican /Conservative strongholds.
I believe it is all by design.

    Just Fine says:

    July 25, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    Sure somebody said where the stations are: The NAB. Among the station locales: Detroit (all of their networks), Buffalo, Seattle, Syracuse, Cleveland, Spokane, Rochester and Watertown, NY and Flint, Mich. Hardly Republican/Conservative strongholds.

    Stop looking for something that supports that myopic agenda.

John Stelzer says:

July 25, 2011 at 3:50 pm

How many times has Bill Lake stated that the Allotment Optimization Model studies and methodology would be released “in the next few months”? The “next few months” have expired at least once – and perhaps twice – before.

len Kubas says:

July 25, 2011 at 3:50 pm

game on! It was heartening to hear the psas from NAB on the radio over the last week.

Teri Green says:

July 25, 2011 at 3:59 pm

The answer is simple. Make all broadcast TV standard def. SDTV will free up tons of space. Those wanting HD programing should pay for the luxury. SDTV should be free, it’s good enough for everyone. If you want the high def, pay the cable or dish companies for the privledge of clear picture. High def pretty much is a scam anyway. I mean is Seinfeld any funner if it’s in high def. Does Eli Manning suddenly catch the pass if it’s in high def? No high def adds nothing but it allows businesses to sell TV sets to people who are demanding high def. It’s a self created market. I love how our local news scream “now in high def!” Big deal the reporting still sucks and is getting worse. Seeing an anchor person’s pores on their skin, isn’t an improvement. So just make all TV SD and high def can go to pay. Yes, if you want high def pay for it.

    len Kubas says:

    July 25, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    and, while we’re at it, let’s replace all them wasty automobiles with bicycles and toaster-sized cars.

    Christina Perez says:

    July 25, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    EricPost = let ’em eat cake lame psyops agent, paid for with U.S. tax dollars. Expose this fraud, soon to be laid off Lockheed Martin Info Systems employees, and reap a big whistleblower reward from Uncle Sam!

    mike tomasino says:

    July 25, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    Eric’s just upset because since they closed down analog he is too close to the towers his system overloads. Paperclips and tumbtacks work as DTV antennas in high RF areas.

    Peter Grewar says:

    July 25, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    Oh, let’s take Eric’s idea one step further — since many people are willing to watch 240P video via YouTube on their cellphones, clearly even standard definition is more than is needed. So if we degrade broadcast service down to 240P, we can comfortably fit a dozen or so broadcasters into a single 6 MHz channel and can shrink the broadcast band down to the VHF band. And while we’re at it, people living in big single family homes is way too wasteful, too — we should force everyone to live in tiny apartments so that we can reallocate all that space wasted on economically inefficient housing for more worthwhile purposes such as shopping centers and office parks. Or to put it another way — I bought my HDTV with the expectation that I would be able to continue to receive those OTA broadcasts in high def, so why don’t you just sod off? Your idea that broadcast viewers should be limited to blurry pictures is obnoxious, to put it politely…

    len Kubas says:

    July 26, 2011 at 1:46 am

    you accuse anybody who is smarter than you or who disagrees with you, or who are more knowledgeable than you, as being psyops agents. Must be real excitin’ in yer brain.

Joanne McDonald says:

July 25, 2011 at 4:12 pm

I would recommend that Daystar, Trinity, Ion and other religious and minor broadcast network be regulated to cable only network that can be made available to customers with FTA systems and be made available on both Directv and Dish Network and also be allowed to stream their programming online for internet users at no cost. I like the idea in which NBC stations share their channel with Telemundo, CBS stations sharing with CW, FOX stations sharing with MyNET, Univision and Telefutura share a channel together, and ABC would continue to not have to worry about sharing their stations with another network or another station. I would recommend that all the TV stations that are now on the UHF 14-51 band in digital that were on 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13 in analog be forced to move on 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13 in digital and all the TV stations that are now on the UHF 14-51 band in digital that were on 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, and 30 in analog be forced to move back to those channels in digital by 2015 or 2016. I like the idea of all the TV stations be allowed to transmit all HDTV and SDTV as well as mobile programming in the MPEG 4 format in the future. I like the idea of both IVI TV and FilmOn HDi be allowed to go in business again and be able to transmit all the local stations to the viewers on the net for free without any interference from the government for violating any copyright laws with benefits for online viewers that want to watch their favorite stations programming such as local news and shows even after the spectrum auction and plan becomes very mandated and very hard for TV stations to be able to stay on the air without being able to stream all their programming online to the viewers online.

    Peter Grewar says:

    July 25, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    Wow, what a bunch of truly stupid ideas. Starting with the fact that regulating religious broadcasters off the public airwaves would certainly violate the First Amendment by treating religious speech differently from other speech. You shouldn’t have to be a fan of those networks (I’m certainly not) to understand why that’s a bad idea. Next, and also for First Amendment reasons, the FCC cannot tell stations with of their competitors they have to share channels with — that must inherently be handled through private negotiations. In addition, switching to MPEG4 would obsolete every digital tuner and television sold up to now. Finally, your ideas about how to repack the broadcast band suggest that you have no real understanding of the complexities of allocating channels to minimize interference.

Halie Johnson says:

July 25, 2011 at 4:57 pm

If they force stations to change channels, I hope there’s some financial backing from the FCC. It’s bad enough we were forced to upgrade to digital without any help, another gun to the heads of already struggling broadcasters will force even more out of business.

Channel sharing is a bad idea. Unless we all down-convert our HD signals to SD, everyone participating in it will have to over-compress each channel to fit it in the tiny 6 MHz pipe we have to work with.

In my humble opinion, better modulation and using MPEG4 instead of MPEG2 would have allowed us the wiggle room necessary to share channels. Even allow us to do more with our bandwidth if we’re not sharing.


July 25, 2011 at 6:34 pm

Remember how you can tell when a politician (this includes FCC members) is lying….when their lips move.

    len Kubas says:

    July 26, 2011 at 1:47 am

    they can lie in print too!

Warren Harmon says:

July 25, 2011 at 7:10 pm

One would think by now the place to be for OTA DTV 8VSB is in the 500 to 700 MHZ band we have seen how poorly VHF Lo and Hi performs for DTV with only modest pulse noise interference. Why not let the LightSpeeds and cellular providers have a chance at real innovation and give them the VHF TV spectrum. Show them what it is to really innovate. The sorry suckers want to steal what works for them in the 500 MHZ and above band and LightSpeed wants to F/U GPS at 1.559GHz!

Sheena Bailey says:

July 26, 2011 at 1:09 am

Mr. Genakowski is acting like a self righteous thirteen year old girl. Since when did we the American people authorize the FCC to sell what is not theirs to sell. Local Television provides a vital service to the poor, the aged, and the disenfranchised. He sold our Analogue spectrum for 62 Billion dollars. Put the burden of the Transition and all of it’s real life cost on the broadcasters. This is the Louisiana purchase all over again. How do you sell what is not yours? The FCC is not acting in the best interest of the people of America I would like to see a house cleaning on the hill. Where did the 60 Billion dollars go from the Auction of the Broadcast spectrum?
Finally, the cell phone/ data services will eat up whatever spectrum they can get and squander it. They are not efficiently engineering their own spectrum the way Broadcasters are required to. This is a push to give corporate america another foothold on our throats. If the FCC wins this we are headed down a slippery slope.
The FCC needs to be audited and there ought to be a grand jury investigation into Genakowski.

Chris Golson says:

July 26, 2011 at 3:36 pm

“Since spectrum is a finite resource, it is vital that the US government ensures the highest and best of use.” — CTIA VP Chris Guttman-McCabe

Loose translation: “We want the US Government to take it away from them & give it to us.”

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