Forty percent of U.S. full-power local television stations could have to vacate their current TV channel assignment under the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, and a minimum of 210 of those stations could go off the air permanently, according to a new NAB analysis.

The report found that 672 of the nation’s 1,735 full-power TV stations must be “cleared” from channels 31-51 to accommodate the FCC’s goal of reclaiming an additional 120 megahertz of spectrum from broadcasters. During the analog-to-digital TV transition two years ago, only 174 stations had to be cleared from channels 52-69 and forced to move to a new channel.

“If the FCC’s National Broadband Plan to recapture 20 more TV channels is implemented, service disruption, confusion and inconvenience for local television viewers will make the 2009 DTV transition seem like child’s play,” says NAB President Gordon Smith. “NAB endorses truly voluntary spectrum auctions. Our concern is that the FCC plan will morph into involuntary, because it is impossible for the FCC to meet spectrum reclamation goals without this becoming a government mandate.” 

Highlights of the report:

>> The Top 10 TV markets would be dramatically impacted by the FCC proposal, with 73 stations in the largest 10 markets going off the air.
>> More than half of all TV stations would likely need to disrupt service for millions of viewers for a few hours to a few weeks to accommodate repositioning of those TV channels “repacked” into a lower channel assignment.
>> Service disruptions would occur at more than 800 TV stations in large markets, mid-sized markets and small markets; the negative impact would be spread among network-owned stations and affiliates, Spanish and other foreign-language stations, independent,å religious and public TV stations.
>> Americans living in cities along the Canadian border would bear extra burdens because of international treaty obligations designed to minimize interference between Canadian and U.S. cities. Under the FCC NBP, all Detroit TV stations could go dark. Other border cities that could face severe disruptions and loss of service include Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester and Watertown, N.Y.; Cleveland; Seattle and Spokane; and Flint, Mich.

NAB now wants the FCC to make its report public. “We’ve waited patiently for over a year for FCC data on how the Broadband Plan impacts broadcasters and, more importantly, the tens of millions of viewers who rely every day on local TV for news, entertainment, sports and lifeline emergency weather information,” Smith adds. “Even Congress can’t get information from the FCC. All we are seeking is more transparency. We have but one chance to get this right if we are to preserve future innovation for broadcasters and our viewers.”

The Fallout

Comments disputing the NAB’s analysis results didn’t take long to surface.

"Contrary to the scare tactics that NAB is presenting to consumers and policymakers, reallocating underutilized spectrum will not remove free over-the-air broadcast television. We also want to remind broadcasters of two key points in all of the incentive auction discussions as well as in each of the legislative discussion drafts. First, participation in the auction is voluntary,” notes CTIA Vice President Chris Guttman-McCabe. “Second, repacking costs will be reimbursed. NAB’s study confirms that even under their analysis, spectrum can be moved voluntarily to its highest and best use, billions can be raised for the U.S. Treasury and free over-the-air broadcast services continue.

He continues, "Even though we are the most efficient users of spectrum, driving high-speed mobile broadband to 300 million Americans, the U.S. wireless industry needs the ability to purchase more spectrum in order to continue to provide their customers with the best products and services in the world. Since spectrum is a finite resource, it is vital that the U.S. government ensures the highest and best of use. Economists estimate that for every dollar invested in mobile Internet, it will create an additional $7 to $10 for the GDP. This is in addition to the tens of billions of dollars that will be raised at auction. Our members want to help boost our country’s economy, but they must have access to more spectrum. This can, and should, be a win-win-win."

Adds Consumer Electronics Association Senior Vice President/Government Affairs Michael Petricone,  “The NAB study sets up and knocks down a purely fictional straw man. The study presumes an unrealistic scenario in which every single existing TV station continues to operate over-the-air. However in the event of incentive spectrum auctions, it is highly likely numerous stations will capitalize on their spectrum assets by exiting the business or sharing resources. More, the NAB study implies that many broadcasters will be forced to auction their spectrum. However, current congressional legislation includes only voluntary incentive auctions and reimbursement expenses for relocation costs.”

In addition, he notes, “Our nation faces a crisis as demand for wireless spectrum will soon outstrip supply. Meanwhile, the number of Americans relying purely on over-the-air TV is less than 10 percent, according to both CEA and Nielsen market research. Incentive auctions would be a financial windfall for broadcasters, free up the spectrum necessary for the next generation of American innovation to move forward and bring in $33 billion to the U.S. Treasury.”

Petricone concludes, “Spectrum auctions would be a win-win-win for the United States. CEA, CTIA – the Wireless Association, the Federal Communications Commission, the Obama administration and numerous members of Congress support spectrum incentive auctions. NAB stands alone and is simply trying to protect its business interests.”

The Daily

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