FCC's Pai: Broadband shouldn't replace TV broadcasting

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai has stepped up to defend the role of television broadcasting in modern U.S. society, suggesting at least some broadcast frequencies need to be protected from spectrum-hungry wireless broadband providers.

Ajit Pai

Ajit Pai

"I don't view broadband as a substitute for broadcast. Instead, I see broadcast and broadband as complements," said Pai, according to the prepared text of Pai's speech to the National Association of Broadcasters Radio Show in Dallas.

"As we head into the future, I believe that broadcasting should and will continue to play an important role in America's media landscape," he said.

While Pai said the FCC should aggressively pursue policies to remove regulatory barriers to wireline and wireless broadband deployment, he suggested that some services--for instance, high-demand programming such as the annual airing of the Super Bowl--should be delivered through a one-to-many broadcast rather than millions of one-to-one wireless broadband connections.

"If we were to shift all of the services provided by broadcasters to broadband that would actually be counterproductive. It would make our spectrum problems worse, not better. So that's not what the market will demand," Pai said.

Some TV broadcasters have assailed the FCC for showing what they perceive as preferential treatment to the growing broadband industry. The commissioner defended the FCC, saying it is not indifferent to the needs of broadcasters, though he acknowledged, that the commission "can do a better job of focusing on what's important to broadcasters."

Pai's comments were made with the backdrop of the impending incentive auction of broadcast TV spectrum, which Congress authorized in Feb. 2012. Under the law, the FCC will pay the broadcasters to relinquish their 6 MHz pieces of spectrum, and the revenue raised from the auctions will be used to compensate the carriers.

At its Sept. 28, open meeting, the commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to implement the incentive auction, which is aimed at enticing TV broadcasters to give up their frequencies. The agency hopes to issue formal auction rules by mid-2013, enabling the auctions to take place in 2014.

The rulemaking will outline and seek comment on plans for the reverse auction of broadcast spectrum as well as establish rules for how wireless carriers will bid on the spectrum. Additionally, the proceeding will outline specifics on how remaining broadcasters will be moved off the spectrum, a process often referred to as "repacking."

For more:
- read Pai's speech
- see this Multichannel News article

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