The lead staffer on the FCC's spectrum reclamation plan tells B&C that broadcasters have been lobbying against a worst-case scenario that is no longer on the table--if it ever was.
Phil Bellaria, a former cable executive with Charter Communications, has been working on the broadband team as director of scenario planning. He says the plan currently being prepared for vetting by the FCC commissioners would be voluntary and would not require any broadcaster to sell its spectrum to the government or give up the ability to transmit in HD, multicast or mobile, at least initially. However, the commission might have to look at the spectrum issue again later, depending on demand.
Bellaria says that suggestions by broadcasters that the FCC or special interests are trying to take broadcasters' spectrum were off the mark. "The reality is that we are not trying to take spectrum from any individual broadcaster unless that broadcaster chooses to do it," he said.
Bellaria says that when the team began looking at freeing up spectrum for broadband, the scenarios ran the gamut from ones that freed up very little spectrum to the most extreme, which could have meant not being able to deliver HD over the air.
He says that during the process of talking to stakeholders, the team narrowed the scenarios and has come up with one that he says gives broadcasters flexibility while still preserving free, over-the-air TV, which he says is a commission goal.
"Where we have landed is a scenario that establishes a voluntary marketplace mechanism so that broadcast TV stations have a choice in how they want to use their spectrum," Bellaria says. "That choice could include retaining all of it and continue to broadcast in HD with broadcast and mobile; relinquishing some of it, because there are many stations not using all of the bandwidth available to it; or in some cases stations making the decision to relinquish all of their spectrum."
Look for John Eggerton's complete interview with Phil Bellaria in the January 18 issue of Broadcasting & Cable.