Washington

Spectrum Policy Gets Diverse Treatment at Broadband Conference

NAB's Ornelas: over-the-air viewership is growing, not shrinking 1/26/2012 08:31:40 PM Eastern

Representatives of the cable and broadcast
industries Thursday made the case for why those technologies would be key
players in the wireless broadband space.

Speaking
at a spectrum reallocation panel at the Minority Media & Telecommunications
council's Broadband and Social Justice Summit in Washington, NAB's Chris Ornelas said
that broadcasting could help offload wireless capacity that over-the-air
broadcasters continued to serve a diverse population that should not be forgotten
in the rush for "spectrum, spectrum, spectrum," and that the
over-the-air viewership was growing, not shrinking.

Ornelas,
correcting the moderator's mispronunciation of his name, said that he could be
referred to as the "Keeping Americans safe during times of emergency
Chris."-- Christopher Guttman-McCabe of CTIA was also on the panel.

He
said broadcasters were "happy to be part of the solution: if there was a
need for more spectrum to "sate the congested networks that the wireless
folks are operating on today."

He
also said NAB had "no objection" to folks who want
to get out of the broadcasting business, but that what it wants to insure is
protecting the people who want to stay and their viewers.

McCabe-Guttman
had talked about reclaiming spectrum -- in this case it would be from
broadcasters -- for a higher, better use. Ornelas said that while he
appreciated the comments by panelist Blair Levin, FCC broadband plan architect
and currently with the Aspen Institute, when he said the plan did not prejudge
the value of broadcasting going forward. But Ornelas added that that profession
notwithstanding, "since the day the plan was released, the conversation
has been about nothing but the value of broadcasters and the continued utility
of that service."

He
suggested that conversation has usually included two points, which he disputes:
1) broadcasters aren't using the spectrum they have been given and 2)
broadcasters have a "dwindling and insignificant" audience.

He
countered that broadcasters have delivered on their DTV promise of HD and cool
new services. He said there are now 1,800 multicast channels, many of which are
significantly targeted to diverse communities with programming they can't find
elsewhere. He also pointed to the mobile DTV buildout. He also said that
protecting broadcasting is important because the over-the-air-only audience is
disproportionately minority. "What we are concerned about is that, as the
Congress and FCC move forward, folks who disproportionately rely upon our
services are not disproportionately impacted by the polices and regulations
issued to effect this auction."

He
said Congress and the FCC will have "a big problem" if station
repacking is not done "carefully."

James
Assey of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, reminded his
audience that 99% of wireless service had a wired component and that robust
wired buildout would make wireless more spectrum efficient.

Assey
said that all the players were trying to figure out the best way to "map
government-controlled assets in a way that marshals them to meet the demands
and uses that customers are increasingly enjoying." That included making a
pitch for unlicensed wireless, specifically wi fi. pointing out that cable
operators were increasingly offering hot spots for their customers. He said
2012 would be the year for surpassing the one billion mark for number of
devices with imbedded wi-fi chips.

When
Ornelas said broadcasters supported spectrum incentive auctions, the comment
drew a response from panelist Blair Levin, FCC broadband plan architect and
currently with the Aspen Institute. He said he remembered it differently.
"It is nice that they say they are supportive of incentive auctions. It
wasn't quite the way I remembered it but I am glad they are now supportive."

Levin
reiterated his concerns about House spectrum auction legislation that limits
how the FCC can set up auctions, and that requires the FCC to make reasonable
efforts to preserve the coverage areas and interference protections of
broadcasters who do not give up spectrum for those auctions.

As
he told B&C in an interview last year, he thinks the Congress should have
written a one-sentence bill that gave the FCC the authority to compensate any
broadcaster who gives up spectrum and give the FCC the hard job of coming up
with the details, pointing out they are the experts at auctions. He said the
current bill ties the FCC hands and gives broadcasters an avenue for endless
litigation that could hold up the auction or reduce its take. In fact he said
he would bet $100 dollars that if the bill remains in its current form, it will
not score as high with congressional budgeters.

He
said the argument, made by some House Republicans, that the FCC's desire to
have the flexibility to put conditions on auction bidders is silly. "If
the FCC were to propose auction rules or make any auction related decision that
Congress did not like, Congress would have at least a year -- the minimum time
it takes to go from rule-making to auction -- to take action to modify or
reject the proposal, as Congress has in the past done."

March