Sen. Harry Reid’s debt reduction proposal would permit the FCC to conduct incentive auctions of TV spectrum and share the proceeds with broadcasters who give up spectrum, but doesn’t have safeguards that broadcasters want. NAB is lobbying against the plan, calling it “about as big a threat as there is in terms of the future of our business.”
NAB Runs Full Court Press On Auction Action
The National Association of Broadcasters is cranking up its grassroots lobbying machine out of concern that Congress may vote on a debt reduction package this week that will grant the FCC authority to conduct incentive auctions of broadcast TV spectrum without adequate protections for broadcasters who choose not to participate in the auctions.
“It’s all hands on deck for us,” says NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. “We think this is about as big a threat as there is in terms of the future of our business. We have one chance to get this right.”
The focus of NAB’s concern is the debt reduction plan authored by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Reid’s proposal, like the pending Senate bill (S.911), would permit the FCC to conduct incentive auctions of TV spectrum and share the proceeds with broadcasters who give up spectrum.
But Reid’s proposal is worrisome because, unlike S. 911, it does not contain any “replication or interference protections’’ for local TV stations that chose not to relinquish their spectrum, according to industry sources familiar with the plan.
NAB is already seeing results from the advocacy advertising campaign it launched to “help educate viewers,” says Wharton. Stations have been running TV and radio spots since July 18.
According to Wharton, those ads have generated 25,000 calls to Congress, 45,000 emails and 80,000 visits to NAB’s “Future of TV’’ website.
NAB is warning TV viewers that “Right now, congressional action may threaten the local TV you rely on. Millions could lose access to free local news, others could lose their HD unless Congress protects local TV.”
NAB is also urging stations executives to call their members of Congress.
Broadcasters know time is short. Congress has until Aug. 2 to raise the debt ceiling and avoid defaulting on its loans, which could have a variety of dire consequences for the U.S. economy.
But raising the debt ceiling is tied to Republicans and Democrats coming up with a debt reduction plan that they can both agree to. So far, the parties have not been able to compromise on a plan.
The House is expected to vote on a debt-reduction measure later today, but that measure does not include incentive auction language.
NAB and broadcast industry lobbyists are focused on Reid’s proposal and pushing for revisions.
Broadcasters are hoping that Reid will adopt some of the language in S. 911, which is backed by Senate Commerce Committee Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).
A top priority for TV stations is to have legislation that will clearly establish that a broadcasters’ service area will remain unaffected by incentive auctions, according to Gerry Waldron, a communications attorney with Covington & Burling, whose clients include the CBS and NBC affiliate organizations.
He says broadcaster are also seeking protections that will “make sure this is a one-time auction, there is no mandatory relocation from a UHF band to a VHF band and there should be money to reimburse broadcasters for relocation.”
Reid’s provisions do include a $1 billion fund to cover costs associated with relocating TV broadcasters. But those funds must be shared with cable and satellite operators that are affected by the auctions.
Ultimately, it may be Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) who takes up the broadcasters’ cause. Broadcast industry sources say that McConnell would rather not see incentive auctions in debt ceiling measure.
However, they say, if auctions are included, McConnell is prepared to insist on some of the protections TV broadcasters are seeking
In the meantime, TV station executives will keep calling their members of Congress and keep running the ads.
CBS affiliate WBDJ Roanoke, Va., is airing the NAB ads three times a day, says Jeffrey A. Marks, president and general manager of the Schurz Communications station.
In the “rush to generate revenue,” he says, there is a lot of confusion about spectrum auctions and a lot of issues can get overlooked. He thinks it is imperative that broadcasters make the case for the importance of free over-the air television.
“Local television news is the No. 1 source of news in this country and we want to make sure that a spectrum auction system doesn’t undermine that, doesn’t undermine the ability to get weather information to people in a hurry. There are a huge number of people for whom free, over-the air local television is a lifeline.”