Broadcasters Urge FCC to Lift Freeze On Station Modification Applications

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By Paul Barbagallo  

 

The National Association of Broadcasters is urging the Federal Communications Commission to lift a freeze on filing new applications for TV station modification, a move the agency made in April ahead of planned incentive auctions of spectrum.

In a May 6 letter to the FCC, the association said a freeze is unnecessary and is having an adverse effect on the industry.

The FCC authorized the freeze in an April 5 public notice, saying it would provide a “stable database” of full-power and “Class A” TV facilities for analyzing methodologies for “repacking”--the process of squeezing into smaller bands of spectrum TV stations that choose not to return spectrum to the FCC for an auction to wireless carriers.

“The notice establishing the freeze failed to provide a convincing rationale for bringing the broadcast business to a standstill, and, to date, it still remains uncertain to whom exactly the freeze applies,” Rick Kaplan, executive vice president of strategic planning for NAB, wrote in the letter. “There clearly has not yet been an adequate examination of the true costs and benefits of such a freeze, including its impact on related industries beyond broadcasters and their viewers.”

At the very least, Kaplan added, the FCC should continue to process pending applications for modification until the agency can evaluate the broader impacts of the freeze on TV viewers and stations.

During the digital television transition, the agency's Media Bureau determined that a freeze was necessary “to ensure a stable television database” prior to channel elections. The freeze applies to new applications and “petitions requesting new channels or service areas”; the bureau did not freeze pending applications, Kaplan noted.

The FCC is in the process of crafting rules for the first incentive auctions of spectrum, in which the agency will try to reclaim airwaves now used for broadcast television and auction them off to carriers led by Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc., with a portion of the proceeds paid to the broadcasters. While the auctions are not expected until 2014, the auction rules are due to be finalized in the first half of 2013. The rulemaking has been contentious, as most broadcasters want to either retain their spectrum or maximize the opportunity to sell their spectrum at the highest possible rate.


The letter is available at http://www.nab.org/documents/newsRoom/pdfs/050613_Modification_Application_Freeze_Letter.pdf.