Rick Kaplan, the National Association of Broadcasters' new
point person on spectrum auctions, said Monday that he did not think the
spectrum incentive auctions were needed immediately and that since they were proposed three
years ago by the FCC, the marketplace had done a good job of finding a way to
deal with that demand. He also said that a majority of broadcasters would
remain in the business after those auctions concluded.
That came in a webcast presented by analyst PwC on
"Unleashing TV Spectrum: A New Wave of Opportunity for Broadcasters and Wireless
Companies," which looked at the implications of the upcoming incentive
Asked if he thought there was actually spectrum scarcity and
what the impact on long-term spectrum demands of the FCC's incentive auctions
would be, Kaplan said there was no question that the demand for data had gone
up dramatically over the past several years, citing the iPhone, for one. He
said that demand came as something of a surprise, but that the market was quick
to react and that, while the auction was a great market mechanism to find out
whether spectrum is going to be more valuable in the hands of broadcasters or wireless
carriers, "the nice thing about this auction is that you actually don't
need it to solve the problem."
Christopher Guttman-McCabe, VP of regulatory Affairs at
CTIA: The Wireless Association, said he looked at the same transactions and
sees them as an argument for why the broadcast spectrum is needed because of
the iPhone, and tablets and mobile education or health or transportation.
"I look at the six of seven largest carriers who have done spectrum
transactions in the last year and that is a perfect illustration of why you
need to get spectrum to market. There is a finite number of these transactions
before the supply runs out and we are working from a fixed supply right now in
the United States."
Kaplan pointed to recent transactions that he said were the
market's way of reacting and resolving that "surprise" data demand.
Those included the Verizon/SpectrumCo deal, T-Mobile getting spectrum from
Verizon and AT&T and now merging with MetroPCS, and Sprint's majority stake
in Clearwire. "The market has reacted quite well to figure it out."
He also pointed out that there were a number of other pieces to the spectrum
puzzle, including the FCC's opening of AWS4 spectrum and looking at federal
spectrum. He conceded it was an "all of the above approach of which
auctions were one element. But we're not in the rush we originally thought
three years ago."
It was one of Kaplan's first public forums in his new role --
he is a former top FCC staffer, wireless bureau chief and advisor to FCC
chair Julius Genachowski -- though he has been up on Capitol Hill to brief
staffers, including on the impact of the auctions on minority broadcasters.
Also on the Webcast were Bill Lake, chief of the FCC's Media
Bureau; Rebecca Hanson, senior advisor on spectrum at the commission; Kaplan, executive
VP, strategic planning, at the National Association of Broadcasters;
Guttman-McCabe; Jeff Mucci, CEO and editorial director, RCR Wireless; Daniel
Hays and Gordon Castle of PWC.
Asked how the FCC will prevent adjacent-channel interference
after the FCC repacks stations that remain after the auction, Kaplan suggested
it would be a complicated and difficult challenge.
He pointed out that the first DTV transition happened over
many years and one thing complicating this latest move is the statutory
requirement -- which he thinks is good -- of bidders not having to reveal their
identifies (in case they lose nobody wants to signal they were contemplating
selling). The problem is that in the DTV transition the FCC distributed maps to
everyone saying "here is your new coverage area, is this right? In the DTV
transition there were two rounds of that. Here you aren't going to get that. And
the way the FCC is looking at the auction in a compressed timeline, again for
reasonable reasons, it is going to be a very hard problem to solve."
He said working out issues as far in advance as possible
would be best, for both broadcasters and wireless companies.
Kaplan said it was anyone's guess which broadcasters would
participate in the auction, but that "broadcasters did not go to Congress
or the FCC because they wanted to sell," and that most broadcasters would
remain in the business after the FCC was done.