FCC to Hill: Imperative To Seize Spectrum-Freeing Opportunity - Broadcasting & Cable

FCC to Hill: Imperative To Seize Spectrum-Freeing Opportunity

Knapp: Auctions that compensate broadcasters for giving up spectrum will be voluntary and not come at their expense
Author:
Publish date:

Julius Knapp, chief of the FCC's Office of Engineering &
Technology, says the nation must "seize every opportunity to free up
spectrum for mobile broadband."

That is according to a copy of his prepared testimony for an
April 12 hearing on spectrum issues in the House Communications Subcommittee.
The hearing is scheduled for about the same time that another Julius, FCC
Chairman Julius Genachowski, is expected to be telling a crowd of thousands
of broadcasters at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in
Las Vegas how that effort can be a win-win for broadband and broadcasting.

According to a copy of Knapp's prepared testimony, he plans
to tell the legislators the FCC supports ensuring a "healthy and
robust" broadcasting industry. He says the incentive auctions that
Congress will need to approve before broadcasters can be compensating for
giving up spectrum will be voluntary and will not come at broadcasters' expense.
But the FCC's definition of voluntary includes limiting the number of stations
that would have to switch frequencies, and to "limit" loss of
service.

The imperative in the FCC's seizure of the moment, if not
the spectrum (the FCC says it remains a "voluntary" plan, is the
spectrum "crunch," and Knapp counted the ways the FCC loves
broadband, punctuated with loads of stats on app use and tablet
and smartphone sales and online shopping. One example: downloaded mobile
apps exploded from 300 million in 2009 to 15 billion in 2010. Then there were
the pubic interest uses for broadband of remote healthcare monitoring, energy, education,
entertainment and more.

"While realignment of some broadcast stations will be
necessary to ensure efficient use of the spectrum freed up in an incentive
auction," the FCC concedes, "our proposal seeks to limit the number
of stations that would need to switch frequencies as part of the realignment
process." To some broadcaster that "need" already sounds like
involuntary, but the FCC points out that even though they move frequencies,
they can maintain the same dial position and would get paid for their troubles.

"For those that do [need to switch], we would work to
limit any loss of service to over-the-air television
viewers and would fully reimburse them for any costs associated with
relocating," says Knapp. "No stations would be required to move from
the UHF band to the VHF band unless they freely chose to do so in exchange for
a share of the auction proceeds," he added. That has been a concern of
broadcasters given that the VHF band is not as effective for DTV
transmissions as UHF, though the FCC has promised to try to improve VHF
reception.

The FCC plan is also prefaced on the confidence that enough
broadcasters will be willing to take them money and move or share so that no
one will be required to move. Last week, a group of economists calling for
incentive auctions suggested that they thought in a marketplace negotiation,
there would be some price point at which broadcasters would be willing to sell
out, so that from an economic standpoint it would wind up being voluntary.

And while Knapp talks up broadcasting toward the end of his
prepared remarks, the top half is all mobile broadband, which he says probably
the most vital sector to the growth of the economy and jobs.

He also asserts that the FCC has completed a baseline
spectrum inventory, including "how non-Federal spectrum is currently being
used. But broadcasters want more. In an interview with B&C, National
Association of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith "respectfully
suggested" [he is a former Senator] that the FCC's baseline inventory is
insufficient, and what was needed was "an in-depth understanding of who
has spectrum and what they're using it for."

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has said he supported
exploring ways to conduct a more exhaustive inventory, but suggested drilling
down on use might not be the way to go.

In a letter to Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), ranking member of
the House Communications Subcommittee Genachowski
said he supported
her suggestion of exploring ways to "more
exhaustively" inventory spectrum, including use, but said measuring actual
use was not necessary to identify "primary opportunities for unleashing
additional commercial spectrum." He also said the FCC faced the challenge
of determining whether a use study was worth the tens of millions of dollars
and several years it would take to complete.

Related