Here’s the (Auction) Beef

Surveying the issues of broadcasters not totally on board with the FCC’s ‘win-win’ auction

Why This Matters

WHY THIS MATTERS
The FCC will need broadcasters’ cooperation to win its push to reclaim spectrum for wirelesss broadband.

What, specifically, is wrong with the FCC’s broadcast incentive auction, the one the commission is touting as a win-win-win? Plenty-plenty-plenty according to broadcasters of almost every description, from a 3,000-member industry association to a rocker named Bo Bice.

Last May, the FCC approved its framework for the auction, still aiming for a mid-2015 target date. But that timetable has since moved in part because broadcasters have pushed back, both at the commission and in court, citing various issues they say threaten the auction’s success and their futures.

Cable operators, computer companies and others have asked the FCC not to make the changes for various reasons, including not wanting the auction date pushed back any more than it already has been.

The commission blamed broadcasters for having to move the kickoff time to early 2016, and if that’s the case, you can credit/blame a slew of broadcasters—both commercial and noncommercial, as each tries to stay in business, along with those perhaps selling out, and including broadcast journalists defending their wireless microphones.

Moving the date allows the FCC to focus on some other topics of interest, such as coming up with new network neutrality rules and ground rules for the transition to IP delivery, and defining over-the-top video.

The gap also offers an opportunity to review a few of the reasons myriad broadcaster groups are pushing back on the plan to begin with.

NAB: The National Association of Broadcasters says that the way the FCC plans to calculate TV station coverage and interference in repacking the stations after the auction will cause stations to lose coverage, which it argues runs counter to the statute’s mandate to the FCC to make its best efforts not to do so.

RTDNA: Wireless microphones used by broadcast journalists in the field? The two reserved channels that various entertainers have long used to operate? The FCC is getting rid of two reserved channels for those and requiring wireless mics to share spectrum with unlicensed devices. The Radio Television Digital News Association says that they should get to keep at least one reserved channel, otherwise they could suffer interference at inopportune times, such as during reports on natural disasters and other emergencies. “RTDNA believes there needs to be at least a small sliver of exclusive spectrum or there very well may be too much interference, particularly in emergency situations, where there is no time to coordinate with hundreds of other spectrum users,” says executive director Mike Cavender. Even Bo Bice, American Idol season 4 runner-up to Carrie Underwood, wrote the FCC to lobby for the two reserved channels, saying he had wireless concerns—namely, gear tuned to the current frequency that he could not afford to replace.

EOBC: The Expanding Opportunities For Broadcasters Coalition says the fix is not tough, but the commission needs to tweak its interference calculation methodology. It also says the FCC should have made it easier to channel-share, though cable operators counter that this should not include extending must-carry in new and creative ways.

NONCOMMERCIAL BROADCASTERS: The Center for Public Broadcasting and the Public Broadcasting Service have told the FCC that its framework risks “unprecedented white areas in dozens of communities” because the FCC did not guarantee at least one noncommercial channel in each market after postauction repacking.

MARYLAND PLAYS POLITICS

Maryland’s deal to keep production of Netflix’s D.C. political drama House of Cards, HBO’s Veep and other series’ tax credits did not rate with the state’s General Assembly Department of Legislative Services.

House of Cards’ production company, Media Rights Capital (MRC), agreed to film the third season of the show in Maryland after the state sweetened its $4 million tax credit with another $7.5 million in grants from the General Assembly.

The Assembly will have to hold a hearing by Dec. 14 on the department’s report, which concluded that the production tax credit did not provide sustainable economic development, and that “as soon as a film production ends, all positive economic impacts cease too.”

The report also argues that of the $62.5 million in tax credits to be handed out between 2012 and 2016, only a fraction of that is coming back in revenue. Of that total, House of Cards and Veep account for all but $2.2 million.

The report tentatively concludes that the state should let the credit expire in 2016 and invest in permanent rather than temporary jobs.