NRB: Spectrum Reclamation Will Hurt Religious Broadcasters - Broadcasting & Cable

NRB: Spectrum Reclamation Will Hurt Religious Broadcasters

National Religious Broadcasters filing with FCC says reclaiming broadcast spectrum "contrary to public welfare"
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Religious broadcasters have asked the FCC not to reallocate any
broadcast spectrum for wireless, saying it will disproportionately
impact Christian TV broadcasters.

Responding to an FCC request
for input on how the public's welfare would be impacted were the
commission to "diminish" over-the-air TV coverage in order to recover
spectrum, the National Religious Broadcasters told the FCC Dec. 21 it
thinks that spectrum reassignment might be illegal.

"NRB
presumes that the term 'public welfare,' includes such things as
compliance by the FCC, with existing legal and constitutional
standards," said the group in its filing, "and believes that violation
of those standards would be contrary to 'public welfare.'"

Pointing
to the writings of FCC Distinguished Scholar in Residence Stuart
Benjamin, which suggest that spectrum could be reallocated from "lower
value" uses like broadcasting to "higher value" uses, NRB says it is
afraid it could be relegated to the lower of that low due to its
noncommercial model.

"[O]ur Christian television broadcasters
rely on current 'must carry' regulations to gain optimal coverage, and
do not, as a general rule, enter into retransmission agreements," NRB
points out. "As a result, there is no standard market index for the
economic 'value' of Christian television programming from a
macro-broadcasting viewpoint. Does that mean, therefore, that Christian
stations would be more susceptible to being viewed as being of lower
'value,' and therefore more likely to lose spectrum?"

NRB
argues that the fact that a station can support itself through public
donations should, in fact, argue for its value to the public; but it
points to a lack of clarity in the FCC's notice regarding terms like
"value" and "benefit."

NRB also says that if spectrum
reclamation were to significantly impact religious broadcasters, it
could well violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which applies
a compelling interest/least restrictive means test for any government
action regarding exercise of religious expression.

NRB also
said it wasn't buying the premise of one of the FCC's questions in the
comment request, which was that consumers are migrating away from
mass-market "appointment TV." NRB cited one station that said its
viewers' average age was 67, that they were not necessarily "caught up
in the latest technology," and that "watching chronological television
is perfectly fine with them."

NRB also says that it sees no
upside in channel sharing that will reduce stations' flexibility to
combine standard and HD offerings, and has no interest in geographic
co-location if it means losing viewers.

"We request that the
FCC refrain from any form of television spectrum reallocation as it may
well impair, or substantially burden Christian television
broadcasters," NRB concluded. "Further, we recommend that the
Commission investigate other means by which broadband can be served
without sacrificing broadcast spectrum. "

The FCC has not yet
proposed any spectrum reclamation, but its broadband advisor has been
talking with broadcasters and others about possible scenarios that
would preserve broadcasting in some form while freeing up spectrum for
wireless broadband. The FCC says wireless broadband will need more
bandwidth to deliver a host of applications, including for
entertainment, government services, health care, energy management,
emergency response and more.

Religious broadcasters have asked the FCC not to reallocate any broadcast spectrum for wireless, saying it will disproportionately impact Christian TV broadcasters.

Responding to an FCC request for input on how the public's welfare would be impacted were the commission to "diminish" over-the-air TV coverage in order to recover spectrum, the National Religious Broadcasters told the FCC Dec. 21 it thinks that spectrum reassignment might be illegal.

"NRB presumes that the term 'public welfare,' includes such things as compliance by the FCC, with existing legal and constitutional standards," said the group in its filing, "and believes that violation of those standards would be contrary to 'public welfare.'"

Pointing to the writings of FCC Distinguished Scholar in Residence Stuart Benjamin, which suggest that spectrum could be reallocated from "lower value" uses like broadcasting to "higher value" uses, NRB says it is afraid it could be relegated to the lower of that low due to its noncommercial model.

"[O]ur Christian television broadcasters rely on current 'must carry' regulations to gain optimal coverage, and do not, as a general rule, enter into retransmission agreements," NRB points out. "As a result, there is no standard market index for the economic 'value' of Christian television programming from a macro-broadcasting viewpoint. Does that mean, therefore, that Christian stations would be more susceptible to being viewed as being of lower 'value,' and therefore more likely to lose spectrum?"

NRB argues that the fact that a station can support itself through public donations should, in fact, argue for its value to the public; but it points to a lack of clarity in the FCC's notice regarding terms like "value" and "benefit."

NRB also says that if spectrum reclamation were to significantly impact religious broadcasters, it could well violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which applies a compelling interest/least restrictive means test for any government action regarding exercise of religious expression.

NRB also said it wasn't buying the premise of one of the FCC's questions in the comment request, which was that consumers are migrating away from mass-market "appointment TV." NRB cited one station that said its viewers' average age was 67, that they were not necessarily "caught up in the latest technology," and that "watching chronological television is perfectly fine with them."

NRB also says that it sees no upside in channel sharing that will reduce stations' flexibility to combine standard and HD offerings, and has no interest in geographic co-location if it means losing viewers.

"We request that the FCC refrain from any form of television spectrum reallocation as it may well impair, or substantially burden Christian television broadcasters," NRB concluded. "Further, we recommend that the Commission investigate other means by which broadband can be served without sacrificing broadcast spectrum. "

The FCC has not yet proposed any spectrum reclamation, but its broadband advisor has been talking with broadcasters and others about possible scenarios that would preserve broadcasting in some form while freeing up spectrum for wireless broadband. The FCC says wireless broadband will need more bandwidth to deliver a host of applications, including for entertainment, government services, health care, energy management, emergency response and more.

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