NAB's Five Spectrum Complications to Watch

Rick Kaplan offers up five top issues that will need resolving if incentive auctions are to work
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Rick Kaplan, the National Association of Broadcasters’ point person on broadcast spectrum incentive auctions, offers five top issues that will need resolving if this is all going to work.

Coordination Along the Border. To free up nationwide bands of spectrum for mobile broadband, the FCC must update its DTV agreements with Canada and Mexico that currently hamstring the agency’s ability to relocate broadcasters operating within 250 miles of the border. If the commission fails to reach some agreement—as the statute requires—the auction will yield less money for the Treasury, strand broadcasters along the border and lead to significant and harmful interference issues.

Repacking Part I. The FCC’s approach to repacking is a mystery at the moment, since according to its notice of proposed rulemaking, it has shelved the software it used to convince Congress to authorize the auctions. The FCC staff is now creating what will surely be extremely complex new software to run the imminent auction and repacking process; the new program will not have been tested. Broadcasters should squawk if they’re not allowed to vet the software.

Repacking: The Sequel.
The Spectrum Act compels the FCC to take “all reasonable efforts” to preserve broadcasters’ coverage area and population served at the time of the legislation. Broadcasters should be mindful of how and by whom this is interpreted. The proposed rulemaking included some options that could have a detrimental impact on these coverage areas and stations. The NAB has offered up modifications that would give the FCC some more flexibility, though not enough for wireless carriers, who want the FCC to free up more spectrum for them.

The TV Broadcaster Relocation Fund.
Broadcasters that don’t participate in the auction are rightly concerned about being made whole if they are forced to move. In the Spectrum Act, Congress sought to make the auction as “voluntary” as possible, giving the FCC a $1.75 billion budget to repack and reimburse broadcasters (and MVPDs) that are forced to move. The NPRM, however, doesn’t consider the fund as a budget, meaning there could be out-of-pocket costs for every broadcaster and MVPD forced to move.

The Variable Band Plan.
The proposed rulemaking recommends creating different band plans in different markets (based on the amount of spectrum it can recover in each). But this is likely to cause major interference in adjacent markets between broadcasters and wireless carriers operating on the same channels for the first time.

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