A federal appeals court says that an NAB-Sinclair Broadcast Group challenge filed last year objecting to portions of the FCC’s spectrum auction plans is without merit.
The U.S. federal court of appeals today rejected challenges of broadcasters to the FCC rules for the incentive auction of television spectrum, removing an large obstacle to the auction taking place early next year as the agency plans.
The NAB and Sinclair Broadcast Group in August 2014 challenged the FCC’s decision to change the methodology used to predict local television coverage areas and population served, claiming that it could result in significant loss of viewership of TV stations after the FCC “repacks” the stations into a shrunken TV band following the auction.
The petition also claimed that the FCC erred in failing to ensure proper protections for broadcast translators, which are transmitters that help boost the coverage of broadcast TV programming to more rural and remove viewers.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Thursday found the challenge without merit.
“Petitioners argue that certain commission decisions announced in the orders conflict with the Spectrum Act or are otherwise arbitrary and capricious. We deny the petitions for review and sustain the commission’s orders,” Circuit Judge Sri Srinivasan wrote in the opinion for the three-judge panel.
In response, NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said: “Throughout the incentive auction proceeding, NAB’s focus has been on preserving a robust local television service that is the envy of the world. We’re disappointed with today’s ruling, which we believe fails to hold the FCC to the letter of the law passed by Congress. Nonetheless, we remain committed to working with policymakers to ensure a successful auction that protects the interests of broadcasters, whether they participate or not, and does not disenfranchise our tens of millions of viewers.”
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler issued the following statement: “We are gratified that the court agrees with the Commission’s balanced, market-based approach to freeing up more valuable spectrum for innovative wireless broadband services. This decision provides the commission and all stakeholders with the certainty necessary to proceed apace toward a successful auction in the first quarter of next year.”
Preston Padden, executive director of the Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition, said: “Our coalition intervened on behalf of the FCC in these appeals and we are thrilled with the result. This is a tribute to the hardworking FCC staff and great news for starting the incentive auction early in 2016.”