NAB: FCC's Proposed Changes to TV Station Coverage Model May Violate Law
Broadcasters say proposal could undermine incentive auctions and delay broadcaster decisions
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 2/8/2013 12:30:00 PM
That is according to an FCC filing detailing meetings between top NAB officials, including incentive auction point person Rick Kaplan, and FCC officials Thursday.
On Feb. 4, the FCC quietly released a proposed update to computer modeling (OET Bulletin 69), which the FCC uses to determine TV station coverage areas and interference potential. It was less quiet after TV Technology scribe Deborah McAdams, then B&C, reported on the document, which is used to help figure out how stations will fit in the reconstituted spectrum band after the auction.
The incentive auction legislation instructs the FCC to make its best effort to replicate coverage and interference protections. That information will be important when the FCC has to repack stations after the incentive auctions, as well as in determining access to in-market and out-of-market stations for satellite carriers. That is an issue that will arise in the reauthorization of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act at the end of next year, which Congress will start to look at in a House Communications Subcommittee hearing next week.
One big proposed change to the Longley-Rice signal propagation model (how TV and radio signals travel) is that it would now be based on 2010 census data rather than 1990 census data, which means it reflects a 24% population jump and different population distribution. The FCC also asks whether it should continue to give the benefit of the doubt to coverage or interference findings flagged by the model as "dubious."
In the meetings, NAB said using the new data that would result in greater protected areas for some, and smaller for others would "create instability in the process that can only serve to undermine the auction that NAB and other industry players are working extremely hard to make work as Congress intended."
It also said those changes may violate the incentive auction legislation, which, says the FCC, will make its best efforts to preserve "the coverage area and population served of each broadcast television licensee, as determined using the methodology described in OET Bulletin 69 of the Office of Engineering and Technology of the Commission."
NAB says that clearly means the bulletin as it existed at the time of the legislation's enactment.
Some auction backers warned early on that the more specific the incentive auction language was, the more opportunity there could be for legal challenges that could hold up the auction.
NAB also suggests the decision to modify the model should come from the commissioners, not the Office of Engineering and Technology, and only in a formal notice-and-comment proceeding. According to the filing, NAB said it supports reviewing Bulletin 69, but that to do so now, and in the way the FCC has proposed, "could invite unnecessary delay into the process and would cause widespread uncertainty for broadcasters who may be deciding whether to participate in the auction and how to go about protecting their viewers in the event they do not."
NAB also again asked the FCC to release its software for repacking stations into new channels as soon as possible. It calls that computer model the "engine" of the auction.
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