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Super Committee New Focus Of Auction Push

The FCC’s desire to auction TV spectrum to aid wireless broadband and generate revenue is now centered on a House-Senate effort to reduce the country’s budget deficit. Broadcasters, led by NAB, are concerned that the Super Committee version of the incentive auction will lack sufficient protections for those TV stations that choose not to participate in an auction. So, NAB and other broadcast lobbyists will be working hard over the next two months to make sure that whatever incentive auction provision emerges addresses the industry's concerns.

Like a lot of Americans, broadcasters will be following the work of the House-Senate Super Committee that has been charged with coming up with $1.5 trillion deficit reduction legislation by Nov. 23.

But broadcasters will have a special interest in the 12-member panel since it will likely consider including a provision giving the FCC the authority to reallocate a large swath of TV spectrum to wireless broadband through a so-called incentive auction. The Super Committee is interested in the incentive auction since it promises to generate billions of dollars of badly needed revenue for the government.

Broadcasters worry that the Super Committee version of the incentive auction will lack sufficient protections for those TV stations that choose not to participate in the incentive auctions.

As a result, the NAB and other broadcast lobbyists will be working hard over the next two months to make sure that whatever incentive auction provision emerges addresses the industry’s concerns.

NAB President Gordon Smith likes the broadcasters’ chances of gaining some protections for stations. “I know from personal experience that few things would light up my switchboard more than messing with constituents’ television sets,” says the former Oregon senator.

The broadcast reps have a short window of opportunity to influence the Super Committee. They can make their case to the standing House and Senate committees until Oct. 14, by which date the committees must make their recommendations to the Super Committee. Thereafter, broadcasters must deal directly with the 12 members of the Super Committee.

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After the Super Committee issues its package — again, its deadline is Nov. 23 — it can’t be changed. The relevant committee must approve it without amendments by Dec. 9. Then, the full House and Senate have until Dec. 23 to vote up or down on the bill.

“It is a little early to say exactly what our action plan will be,” says Smith. “But to the degree necessary, beyond the advocacy we are doing on the Hill, we are certainly prepared with a significant grassroots and airwaves campaign should that be necessary.

“I would like to do this face to face and make our case to members of the Super Committee, in the hopes that we can spare them all the rest that broadcasters can bring to bear, if necessary,” says Smith.

For broadcasters, the two keys on the Super Committee are Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and House Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.)

As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, Kerry is likely to make the case for inclusion of S. 911 or something like it in the Super Committee package.

Adopted in June by the Senate Commerce Committee, S. 911 is an incentive auction bill that contains some protections for TV stations that opt to keep their spectrum. The measure also covers any costs associated with moving broadcasters to new channels following the auction.

But broadcasters say that it stops short of giving them the protections they need.

They want the FCC to be given specific guidelines for dealing with interference issues and assurances that stations’ service areas will remain unaffected.

The broadcasters see Upton as their ally on the committee. With Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (D-Ore.), Upton is the co-author of draft legislation that is more generous with protections for broadcasters than S. 911.

“Fred Upton really understands the value of local broadcasters,’’says Karole White, president of the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. “A lot of people will put weight on what he has to say.”

NAB has been feuding with the FCC over its proposal for reallocating up to 120 MHz of broadcast TV spectrum since the fall of 2009.

The reallocation mechanism is an incentive auction. The FCC believes that many broadcasters will voluntarily turn over their spectrum to the FCC for auction to wireless carriers if they can share in the proceeds from the auction.

Many may, but the FCC needs congressional authority to conduct such auctions.

The problem is that most broadcasters, including those who control the NAB, are not interested in giving up any of their spectrum and they are concerned that auctioning some spectrum and the subsequent channel reassignments of all stations — the so-called band repacking — will diminish their over-the-air service.

NAB has also argued that any incentive auction bill needs to include a sunset on the FCC’s authority to reallocate more broadcast spectrum; a provision preventing forced relocation to an inferior channel assignment or diminished service areas; reimbursement for expenses incurred due to repacking; and assurances that stations have enough spectrum to deliver full HDTV and provide new services like multicasting and mobile DTV.

“We are not saying stop the auctions. We are simply saying that if they are truly voluntary, don’t harm the non-volunteers in the repacking process that follows,” Smith says.

He also points out that the consequences of repacking are especially damaging to broadcasters with service areas bordering Canada. “If 120 MHz or even 84 MHz are surrendered, Detroit will lose all of its nine full-power stations. There will be no channel for them to go to. Other northern border cities such as Buffalo, Cleveland, Spokane and Seattle will lose a significant number of channels and will have no place to go unless there is a new agreement struck with the Canadian government.

“I would think that is enormously important as a policy matter worthy of the United States Congress. It ought to be a concern for every northern state member of Congress.”

An incentive auction proposal became entangled in the contentious debt ceiling debate this summer. But NAB launched a grassroots lobbying and TV ad campaign in July that derailed a plan offered by Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) that would have permitted incentive auctions without what broadcasters consider adequate protections.

The White House also continues to push its own incentive auction plan as part of its proposed jobs bill. It includes a $1 billion relocation fund to cover costs associated with moving TV stations to new channels following the auction, but it fails to offer any of the major protections NAB is seeking for those broadcasters who hold on to their spectrum.

And it includes provisions permitting the FCC to collect spectrum user fees. Although TV broadcasters would be exempt from those fees, NAB’s radio members and all other spectrum users would be subject to them.

NAB’s Smith isn’t too concerned about the jobs bill, however. If it wasn’t “dead on arrival,”  he says, it was dead when the president revealed how the bill would be paid for.


Comments (12)

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Matthew Castonguay says:

September 21, 2011 at 3:20 pm

I’ve said since the “spectrum conversation” with the FCC started about 18 months ago that eventually broadcasters would have to take the gloves off. I still say that. October 1 – October 13, all NAB member stations run 150 GRPs: “Congress is considering forcing many free TV stations off the air, which means you’ll end up having to pay more in subscription fees to watch your favorite shows such as American Idol, 30 Rock, Good Wife and Dancing with the Stars”. Result: October 14, DOA…Super Committee will run screaming from touching this.

David Siegler says:

September 21, 2011 at 3:26 pm

The FCC is probably one of the best government entities that money can buy and over the last couple of decades they have been bought many times. It is too bad that the public they are supposed to be serving can’t afford them.

Tanya Pavluchuk says:

September 21, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Politicians quickly forget where they spend the majority of their ad dollars when it’s time for re-election. Local Broadcast TV.

Joanne McDonald says:

September 21, 2011 at 4:37 pm

I would take a bet that Daystar, Trinity, Ion and all the other religious and minor broadcast network plus all the diginets multicast networks would round up being regulated to cable only network that would be made available to customers with FTA systems and be made available on all cable systems as well as 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 plus all the TV stations that are now on the VHF 7-13 high band with different RF physical channel numbers on the VHF high band in digital that were on 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13 in analog to 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. I’m afraid that my take of what channels the TV stations ought to be on with the planning of an spectrum auction. I’m actually posting the same post I commented from an earlier article related to this. Thank you for my understanding to this crisis in the TV business lately.

    mike tomasino says:

    September 21, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    “I would take a bet that Daystar, Trinity, Ion and all the other religious and minor broadcast network plus all the diginets multicast networks would round up being regulated to cable…” Ever hear of the first admendment? Oh yeah, your religious viewers can watch you as long as they pay porn distributers for the privilege. Sounds great to me.

    len Kubas says:

    September 21, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    why repeat your anti-religious drivel? Some may not consider this “highest and best quality programming” in favor, say, of “2-1/2 Men” but nobody is permitted to make value assesments of programming, per the communications act. You really don’t want to go down this road.

    Ellen Samrock says:

    September 21, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    Take your meds, dude. Do I have to keep reminding you?

Ellen Samrock says:

September 21, 2011 at 4:48 pm

With Rep Fred Upton on the committee we broadcasters might have a fighting chance. More frightening are bills that address an unrelated issue while attaching incentive auctions as a rider, such as the Obama Jobs Bill. Those bills contain little to no protection for broadcasters. That this Super Committee even exists shows that legislators regard the issue as important enough to review carefully. Rep Greg Walden, in a recent editorial, showed how Congress can meet its spectrum and revenue needs without confiscating more from the TV band. Let’s hope this information can be presented before the Super Committee.

    len Kubas says:

    September 21, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    the obama jobs bill is not a bill. Spending bills have to start in the House, and no Democrat (the folks he’s really fighting with) has seen their way to actually submitting the text of the bill to the Clerk of the House (putting it in the hopper) and it’s unlikely that it will ever be entered, because those folks are running scared, and Obama can’t entere it into the House on his own. Fight real battles, not imaginary ones.

    Ellen Samrock says:

    September 21, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    Wow, I have my own cyberstalker. I don’t know whether to be pleased or disgusted. The press has repeatedly referred to this as the Obama Jobs Bill whether it is technically a bill or not. Notice this article in the NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/15/us/politics/democrats-in-congress-balking-at-obamas-jobs-bill.html I see no reason not to follow suit. We all get the point as to what this really is. But I suggest you also fight some real battles instead of engaging in this AR nitpicking that you seem intent on doing.

    len Kubas says:

    September 21, 2011 at 8:38 pm

    so, you want to define a non-bill as a bill, and use the NYT as reference. I tend to read bills here http://thomas.loc.gov/home/bills_res.html. But don’t be easily confused; a republican from Texas entered into the hopper a bill that stole the title that the President’s non-bill used. He waited for at least a week after the “bill” was announced before stealing the title. At best, his stuff will be (s)talking points in the “super committee.” As for “cyberstaling”: don’t flatter yourself. If I’m responding to each of your posts (I don’t know and don’t care if that is the case) it’s a coincidence having to do with imprecision.

    Ellen Samrock says:

    September 21, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    Like I said, Iconobombast, take your meds and calm down. Ain’t that big of a deal.


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