FCC Faces Challenges on Coverage Changes

But wireless companies side with commission on calculating coverage area and interference protections

The FCC in early February quietly released a proposed update
to the Longley-Rice model and TVStudy software the commission
will use to calculate TV station coverage areas and interference potential
as it repacks stations after the incentive auctions.

The response has been anything but quiet, illustrating the difficulty of
reconciling a host of players with different agendas to achieve the first-ever
combined forward and reverse auction, with the future of broadcasting
hanging in the balance.

The FCC got an earful in reply comments from
broadcasters and other parties with an interest in
how the agency fits stations into smaller spectrum
real estate after the incentive auctions, scheduled
to be completed by the end of next year.

While broadcasters and wireless companies
agree that the FCC’s band plan for repacking
needs rethinking because of how it combines the
two, wireless companies are backing the FCC’s

The following is a sampling of the reply comments filed at the FCC on the subject, according
to commission documents.

The Law Is the Law. The National Association of Broadcasters, joined
by the Big Four broadcast networks and their affiliate associations, are all
in agreement that changing the calculation now would run afoul of the
law that created the incentive auctions. How can the FCC comply with the
mandate to preserve current station coverage areas and interference protections
after the auctions if they implement a change that will radically alter
some of those? The opponents also complain that the change was proposed
at the bureau level, rather than by the full commission.

The broadcasters argue it is no surprise wireless companies are backing
the change, since they stand to benefit from reductions in broadcasters’
predicted coverage areas. Those reductions would allow the FCC to pack
stations more tightly in their reduced coverage areas, which means more
spectrum for wireless, which is both the FCC’s and wireless companies’
ultimate goal.

Noncom NIMBY. Noncommercial broadcasters joined commercial
ones in giving a big bird to the FCC for its attempt to change the methodology
in the so-called Bulletin 69. In their filing, the Corporation for Public
Broadcasting, PBS and the Association of Public Television Stations said the
change would create “widespread uncertainty for stations and would make
it difficult for public television stations to serve their mission of providing all
Americans with important free, noncommercial television services.”

Congress instructed the FCC to use that methodology in its repacking of
TV stations after the incentive auctions, and commercial
and noncommercial broadcasters alike
interpret that to mean the method in existence
when the law was adopted last year, not the FCC’s
proposed update.

While the FCC is bound by statute to make all
reasonable efforts to protect TV stations’ coverage
areas and interference protections post-auction,
the noncoms say that the changes fail to do so
and, instead, “significantly reduce the coverage
area and population served for many stations.”

Quitcher Beefin’. The Wireless Association
told the FCC that it should go ahead with
the change. It did not challenge NAB’s and noncoms’ arguments that the
change could result in “dramatic coverage losses.” But the association said
complaints about those potential changes missed the point, which was that
the new model would be closer to reality. “The goal is to have accurate
coverage, whatever it may be,” CTIA said. “Contrary to NAB’s assertions,
the Commission does not propose to change the methodology described
in OET Bulletin 69. Instead, the Commission proposes to take advantage
of technological and data developments that will allow for a more faithful
implementation of the methodology.”

What They Said. The Consumer Electronics Association, which has
been pushing the FCC to reclaim as much spectrum from broadcasters as
possible, agrees with CTIA that the FCC proposal is fine. The CEA argues
the FCC isn’t changing the methodology, and even if it were that would
square with the incentive auction law. Using the TVStudy software, the
CEA says, will further the ultimate goal of the law, which is to put broadcast
spectrum into the hands of wireless companies.

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