Washington

NAB: Current FCC Band Plan Needs Fixing

Comments focus on band, international coordination and repacking; NAB suggests joint letter with wireless companies "shines light" on more successful path to auction success 1/25/2013 01:56:48 PM Eastern

The National Association of Broadcasters says there are
parts of the FCC's proposed band plan that are unworkable from an engineering
perspective, but it has an alternative as it works to ensure that broadcasters
who don't sell out spectrum aren't, in turn, sold out by an unworkable auction
framework hurriedly erected to meet an artificial timetable.

"There has been a high level of interest in the FCC's planned incentive auction," said an FCC spokesman. "We will review all comments closely, and anticipate that interested parties will provide specific data so we can evaluate any technical proposals."  An FCC source pointed out that it is still fairly early in the process and that the FCC remains open minded and open to working with industry on any technical issues.

NAB held true to its word on Friday, signaling in comments
on the FCC's incentive auctions that its concern was for TV stations that
remain in business. According to top NAB execs, its comments do not even
address the auction portion (or channel-sharing by those who give up spectrum),
but rather focus on the key issues of international coordination, station
repacking and the band plan, or as the new wireless BFF, NAB, puts it,
"the neighborhood" they will share with their "wireless
friends."

Not commenting on the auction itself made sense, given that
NAB president Gordon Smith still says he knows of no NAB member who is planning
to sell, and says that the comments reflect the priorities of those members.

At a press conference outlining their comments on Friday,
Smith and auction/band plan guru Rick Kaplan emphasized that they wanted the
auction to work, but that, as
Kaplan told B&C in an interview

previewing the comments, it should not be rushed. "It's more important to
get this done right than to get it done right now," said Smith.

Smith borrowed from Brown v. Board of Education, saying the
auction should proceed with all deliberate speed, which means not until the FCC
has finished some key spadework. That includes completing frequency
coordination with Mexico and Canada, publicizing repacking methodology and
clarifying the covered moving expenses so broadcasters can vet the plan for
moving them into tighter quarters, and modifying its band plan so that
broadcasters and wireless companies have their own, separate living quarters.

Kaplan has said that there should be no artificial timetable
for completing the auction. The FCC has targeted the end of 2014, but Kaplan
said the only real timetable is 2022, when Congress has said the whole process
must be completed. Within that, he suggested, is the flexibility to get it
right rather than get it done. Kaplan knows a bit about the complexity of the
process. He is the former chief of the FCC's Wireless Bureau and an FCC point
person during the first DTV transition.

As to that complexity, Kaplan pointed out that the FCC had
hired Nobel laureates to handle the auction proportion, but that there were no
Nobel Prize winners working on the repacking portion. By contrast, he said, NAB had the
expertise in that area and he expected the FCC to tap into that.

He pointed out that in the 2009 transition, only about 100
stations had to be repacked (from Ch. 52-69 to below 51). In this one, the
number will max out at about 500 he says, though NAB is hoping the number is
smaller. That number is assuming an estimated $3 million relocation costs per
station and the FCC stopping when the money runs out.

NAB also wants the FCC to treat the $1.75 billion Congress
set aside for those repacking/moving expenses as a budget, meaning when that
money runs out, no more moving. As it is now, said Kaplan, NAB is concerned the
FCC might use repacking as a way to free up spectrum even after that money ran
out.

NAB's comments, due by end of day on Jan. 25, come just a
day after a somewhat surprising joint letter filed by NAB and wireless
companies Verizon and AT&T teaming on a new band plan proposal.

While during the run-up to legislation establishing the
auction, NAB and wireless companies squared off, the tone has changed to a
circle of friendship. Smith and Kaplan's tone reflected the new spirit of
cooperation between the two, one cultivated by Kaplan at the direction of
Smith.

But while they will be sharing what was once primarily
broadcaster spectrum after the auction, Kaplan pointed out that they did not
want to be in each other's living rooms.

That was a reference to the joint proposal that included
AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Intel. Kaplan said they had talked to Sprint
and was not sure why they did not sign on, but also said he expected others in
the coming days to support the plan, both in separate comments and explicitly
endorsing it.

According to Kaplan, that proposal's key differences from
the band plan the FCC proposed last September are that wireless would occupy their
own block of spectrum starting on channel 51, then depending on how much
spectrum was reclaimed, the end of that block would feature a guard band, then broadcasters
would occupy the remainder. The FCC's plan has broadcasters sandwiched between
wireless uplink and downlink spectrum. He also said that as it is currently set
up, there could be broadcasters on channel 48 in one market, and wireless
companies on Ch. 48 in another. "Sharing channels between wireless and
high-powered broadcast doesn't really work from an engineering
perspective."

For example, he said, if the FCC sticks with a
variable-market clearing strategy and clears less in New York than, say,
Philadelphia, then channel 48 stays WNBC in New York, and its wireless handsets
and base stations in Philly. "They are going to really interfere with each
other, and if you create the protections you need to make sure they don't, the
wireless carrier can't really use it. They will be on the other end of it, then
you will have a problem in Baltimore. Their plan of variability in our view
just doesn't work from an engineering perspective."

Smith said the new joint proposal could "shine a light
on the way forward to a successful auction."

While channel-sharing would obviously impact the stations accommodating
those giving up spectrum but wanting to remain in business, but Kaplan has said
he doesn't see sharing working out and echoed that sentiment in explaining why
the comments were mum on the subject.

March