Spectrum Push Comes to Shove?

Broadcasters mull how to interpret writing on FCC’s wall

Why This Matters

Broadband by the Numbers

The National Broadband Map is the result of a tag-team effort by the FCC and the administration, using more than 25 million records to show where Internet service is available, according to state data collection documents. Here are some of the highlights of the map’s first day online (the broadbandmap.gov site went live on Feb. 17), according to representatives of Bethesda, Md.–based Computech, which designed the site (which at presstime was up to almost 500 million hits).

• Hits: 150 million-plus

• Requests per second: 1,000-plus

• Data downloaded: 863GB

• Peak requests per second: 8,970

• Average requests per second: 1,095

• Visits in the first 10 hours: more than 500,000 —JE

Source: Computech

‘We're going to get screwed.” That succinct
spectrum-related observation came from a
state broadcaster association executive in town
two weeks ago during the National Association of Broadcasters’
annual State Leadership Conference.

Asked by B&C whether the FCC’s retrans
rulemaking proposal might be an
opportunity for the commission to pressure
broadcasters to go along with its
spectrum reclamation plans, the exec,
speaking on background, said yes, and
offered that it would remain sufficiently
vague, leaving room for that veiled threat.

An FCC source dismissed suggestions
the commission would use retrans or
other upcoming proceedings as leverage
in the spectrum push.

Other broadcast industry members,
who asked not to be identified, agreed
they are concerned about regulatory
overreach in service of the FCC’s stated
goal of promoting a broadband future.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has repeatedly said he
is not out to drive broadcasters out of business, a point echoed
last week by commission executive Blair Levin, who oversaw
the national broadband plan that proposed repurposing broadcast
spectrum for wireless broadband. “The FCC is actually not
out to destroy any industry,” Levin told B&C. “What we were
trying to do in the plan was to make sure that America had
ubiquitous, diverse, constantly improving broadband.”

Levin argues that if broadcasters would migrate their transmission
standard to the more bandwidth-efficient MPEG-4,
they might be able to serve the government’s and their own interests
simultaneously. Broadcasters counter that would mean
everybody would have to get a new TV set, a “daunting” challenge
so soon after the DTV switch.

NAB President Gordon Smith has suggested broadcasters are
prepared to fight for their spectrum, telling a C-SPAN audience
two weeks ago that broadcasters “would not be rolled.”

Broadcasters are still smarting from a speech by former FCC
Chairman Reed Hundt just prior to the release of the broadband
plan in which Hundt said the FCC’s plan all along had
been to supplant broadcasting with broadband as the national
communications medium. Genachowski was a Hundt aide
back in the mid-1990s, a fact broadcasters also note.

Against this backdrop, FCC and administration moves have
upped industry anxiety. Broadcasters, fighting to recover from
a down economy, now feel they are also fi ghting for their lives,
particularly with an FCC plan to move broadcasters that don’t
give up spectrum to what they see as more cramped quarters
in the less DTV-friendly VHF band.

In his State of the Union speech, President
Obama pushed a National Wireless
Plan, which includes a push to get spectrum.
Then, in his FCC budget, the president
included spectrum fee authority as a
policy tool rather than the revenue-raiser
it had once been considered.

Add the recent suggestion that the FCC
could get rid of programming exclusivity
rules in its retransmission consent
proposal—which would in turn weaken
broadcasters’ hand in retrans negotiation—
and the threat/promise in its as-yet
undecided media ownership rule review,
and broadcasters see the FCC showing its
hand as more of a fist waved in their faces.

An FCC official speaking on background
said the suggestion the commission would use those ideas to
pressure broadcasters not to fight spectrum reclamation proposals
is specious. “FCC Chairman Genachowski continues to
promote and believe in a healthy broadcasting industry while
finding ways, like the proposed incentive spectrum auctions, to
address the nation’s looming spectrum crunch in a way that is
good for broadcasters, consumers and commercial wireless carriers
of mobile broadband alike,” the official stated. “It’s our responsibility
to address this and take action in the near future.”

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