The Obama Administration’s campaign to reassign broadcast spectrum for wireless broadband is now focused on securing congressional authorization for incentive auctions. The White House today hosted an summit on the issue, inviting a bevy of economists, FCC Chief Julius Genachowski and no broadcasters.Ã¯Â»Â¿
Proving yet again that where there’s a will, there’s a way, the FCC has announced that it is proceeding with incentive auctions “promptly”. This is noteworthy, of course, because Congress still hasn’t gotten around to authorizing the sharing of auction proceeds — and the conventional wisdom has been that, without such authority, incentive auctions were a non-starter.
The FCC plan to reclaim a big block of broadcast spectrum is the most critical issue facing broadcasters in the past three decades. So it’s perplexing that they chose this time to shut down MSTV, their longtime spectrum policy lobby, and to diss NAB’s top tech exec. Those moves raise the stakes in NAB’s hiring of a new EVP of technology. The right person keeps broadcasting in the game. The wrong person puts it on the same grim road as newspapers.
A pair of broadcast executives made a pitch in Washington Thursday night for the value of local broadcasting in the face of government calls for them to give up spectrum for wireless broadband. “The work that local stations do in this country is extraordinary and should not be taken for granted,” said David Barrett, president of Hearst TV, which owns 29 TV stations. In addition, Raycom News VP Susana Schuler said broadcasters are best positioned to feed growing news appetite.
Sens. Mark R. Warner and Roger Wicker Wednesday introduced a bill that would require federal agencies to provide more information on spectrum relocation projects at the outset, and would create a technical review panel to help develop relocation plans and provide for spectrum sharing during a transition.
A coalition of television station operators, including operators of religious and low-power stations, is preparing to stand firm to protect spectrum in the face of the FCC’s desire to repurpose parts of the television band for wireless broadband delivery.
The House Communications & Technology Subcommittee is not expected to hold a planned hearing on the FCC-administration’s spectrum reclamation plans next week, according to sources inside and outside the House Energy & Commerce Committee.
The NAB president says broadcasters are willing to volunteer spectrum, but won’t be put in a degraded position on the TV band.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Communications Subcommittee, and Rep. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) introduced a bill that would authorize incentive auctions and require the FCC and NTIA to conduct a spectrum inventory. It would allow the FCC to determine how much to compensate broadcasters for giving up spectrum, but would also try to prevent speculation in those licenses.
The likelihood of federal spectrum auctions is having a two-pronged effect: leading some buyers to look for low-priced stations to buy in the hopes of cashing out from the auction proceeds; and causing some struggling smaller-market and public stations that could use money now to put themselves on the block.
Buried in President Obama’s 2012 budget is an item that could alter the way people look at the term “voluntary,” at least when it comes to the proposed spectrum auctions for broadcast spectrum. “To promote efficient use of the electromagnetic spectrum, the administration proposes to provide the FCC with new authority to use other economic mechanisms, such as fees, as a spectrum management tool,” the budget says. “FCC would be authorized to set user fees on unauctioned spectrum licenses and could be used in instances where incentive auctions are not appropriate.”
The congressman grills FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and isn’t satisfied with the chairman’s answers on just how voluntary FCC’s proposed spectrum auction plan for broadcasters is. “I have dark suspicions,” he says.
The CTIA-The Wireless Association and Consumer Electronics Association submitted a white paper to the FCC that says the commission’s proposed TV spectrum auction will help balance the federal budget by contributing more than $33 billion.
As far as the commission’s concerned, it’s apparently all systems go and full speed ahead with the effort to encourage TV broadcasters to relinquish their spectrum so that it can be used to further the National Broadband Plan. The latest evidence of this is the commission’s plan to offer webinars for stations to explain, it says, “the financial opportunities offered by voluntary incentive auctions” and answer questions, including ones on “the need to repack the remaining television channels following the auction.”
Reaction poured in Thursday following delivery of President Obama’s speech in Michigan promoting his national wireless plan, which aims to reclaim enough spectrum from broadcasters and others to get 4G wireless broadband service to 98% of America within five years. NAB won’t oppose, but says broadcasters and viewers should be “held harmless.”
President Obama is to unveil a plan today to bring wireless high-speed Internet access to all Americans, a goal the administration says is key to the country’s ability to compete globally in the years to come.
Back in early December the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) which kicked off the long-anticipated push to free up prime blocks of TV spectrum for broadband use. The NPRM has now been published in the Federal Register, which sets the comment and reply comment deadlines. Comments are due by March 18 and reply comments by April 18.
the former FCC commissioner says that “incentive auctions are little different from expropriation of property, far worse than the usual government condemnation of property under eminent domain.” He goes on to say “There is a better way: Simply rezone broadcast spectrum to permit other uses, and let anyone buy and sell it.”
While the FCC under Julius Genachowski is actively moving to take spectrum away from TV stations, which the chairman calls an “obstacle” to America’s broadband future, its conditions placed on the Comcast-NBCU deal indicate just the opposite. The commission has decreed that NBC and Telemundo stations must produce an additional 1,000 hours of “original, local news and information programming” as groups. To me that shows that the FCC is implicitly recognizing the continued importance of broadcasting in the media mix.
Many broadcasters are already worried about declining viewers, and now they say the government wants to take away something more: the airwaves themselves.
One of the precepts of the FCC’s plan to reallocate up to half the usable broadcast TV spectrum for broadband is that the market value of the spectrum would be much greater if it’s used for broadband rather than for broadcasting. If the price AT&T is paying for Qualcomm’s prime FLO spectrum is any indication, the FCC may have a hard time convincing broadcasters to voluntarily give up their spectrum.
Pushing for U.S. regulatory and congressional action to free up airwaves to handle the burgeoning use of wireless devices will be the top policy initiative of the consumer electronics industry in 2011, the head of the Consumer Electronics Association said on Tuesday.
While the FCC hopes to take back some of TV’s valuable space by tempting broadcasters to voluntarily put it up for auction, it’s also threatening to get some by repacking the band. But what’s most galling is that it still hasn’t released its repacking models that spell out exactly what it wants to do. They’ve been “forthcoming” since March.
A critical part of the commission’s push to find more spectrum for wireless broadband is to improve the quality of TV signals in the VHF band that were weakened in the digital transition. Among its suggestions are boosting transmission power and setting reception standards for home antennas. Broadcasters are skeptical of the plan’s viability and are worried that they may be forced to move from the UHF band to VHF, requiring expensive equipment while potentially lessening their coverage and alienating their viewers.
By a 5-0 vote, the commission sets in motion a three-part rulemaking looking to auction some TV spectrum, set up the sharing of a single 6 MHz channel by two or more stations and increase power for VHF stations, thereby freeing up UHF space for wireless broadband.
The FCC today will vote on proposals to free up more airwaves for commercial wireless use in a meeting that could be overshadowed if plans to act on contentious Internet traffic rules are circulated. For more on the impact on television stations, click here.
Next Tuesday, Nov. 30, the FCC will launch its rulemaking aimed at freeing up broadcast spectrum through repacking of the band and channel sharing. It will look for ways to improve the VHF band, suggesting that the FCC intends to drive more stations into the band as part of the repacking scheme.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski tells the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners that the current broadcast spectrum allocations “still reflect the previous era. This presents a real obstacle as we try to ensure a spectrum infrastructure for the new world of mobile broadband.” To get things moving, he said, the FCC will consider at its Nov. 30 meeting launching a proceeding that would lift technical restrictions so broadcast spectrum can be used for broadband, and that would allow channel sharing among broadcasters.
A new timetable says the FCC will need to identify the spectrum it’s reclaiming for wireless broadband by mid-2011 and start moving broadcasters to new locations by 2Q 2013.
Verizon Wireless CTO Tony Melone said this week that the carrier now believes that the best way of handling some of the expected demand for video on its new super-fast broadband network is broadcasting — that is, pumping one signal to many users simultaneously rather than millions of signals one at a time. If Verizon Wireless is thinking this way, my bet is that some of its competitor and would-be competitors are too. There’s an obvious alternative: A thousand TV stations pumping video to mobile devices should satisfy much of the demand for on-the-go video and relieve broadband networks of what may be an uneconomical chore.
Paul Jacobs wonders whether broadcasters will “want to waste the electricity to run the towers” if they can get guaranteed carriage of their content on other platforms.