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.
NAB: FCC Broadband Plan Would Kill Stations
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.’’