FCC, NAB tangle over broadcast spectrum auctions

In dueling speeches at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and NAB President Gordon Smith discussed whether and how to refarm TV broadcast spectrum for mobile broadband. 

The debate, which has been raging for months, crystallized as both Genachowski and Smith delivered their pitches to the broadcast industry. Genachowski pressed the case for using incentive auctions to get the spectrum, while Smith countered that broadcasters should not be harmed by the auctions, which Congress still must authorize.

"I believe the single most important step that will drive our mobile economy and address consumer frustration is authorizing voluntary incentive auctions," Genachowski said. The FCC hopes to get up to 120 MHz of spectrum through the auctions--which stand as a key element of the FCC's efforts to free up 300 MHz of spectrum by 2015 and 500 MHz over the next decade for mobile broadband. The CTIA also supports the auctions.

Broadcasters have been largely cool to the incentive auction proposal, in which TV stations would get a share of the proceeds of the spectrum auctions. Smith, who spoke after Genachowski, said the action could harm broadcasters if the FCC "repacks" spectrum to move broadcasters' radio waves closer together after the auctions.

"If a station simply can't make it and it volunteers to sell its spectrum, that's fine--as long as it doesn't harm another station that wants to stay in business and is excited about the future," Smith said. "The problem is that what is voluntary for the former could become involuntary for the latter. It concerns us that the FCC could forcibly relocate a broadcaster, crowd channels closer together, reduce their coverage, destroy innovation for viewers, increase interference, or otherwise degrade their signal."

Genachowski said broadcasters should not have the ability to undermine the effectiveness of the auctions. He said broadcasters would be fully compensated for any costs associated with any channel changes, and that any moves should be voluntary.

"And voluntary means not only that no broadcaster will be forced to offer up spectrum for auction. It means that those who do choose to participate will know exactly what the deal is before relinquishing any rights," he said. "At the same time, however, voluntary can't mean undermining the potential effectiveness of an auction by giving every broadcaster a new and unprecedented right to keep their exact channel location. This would not only be unprecedented, it would give any one broadcaster veto power over the success of the auction--and be neither good policy for the country, nor fair to the other participants."

For more:
- see these two separate Reuters articles
- see this Broadcasting & Cable article
- see this The Hill article

Related Articles:
FCC's Genachowski defends data roaming, harps on spectrum crunch
FCC waits on Congressional authorization for broadcast spectrum auction
FCC proposes rules to reallocate spectrum from TV broadcasters
NTIA report finds 115 MHz of spectrum for wireless
FCC report: New wireless spectrum may be worth $120B