Communications attorney, Michael D. Berg, has a very good article accessible to non-lawyers and non-engineers on the implications for television stations of spectrum repacking on TVNewsCheck. For station CEOs, COOs and board members, this is a good use of your time.
The New America Foundation has released a paper tying spectrum policy with sustaining public media. No, it’s not yet another proposal to create an endowment for public media from spectrum auction proceeds. Here is the executive summary:
Executive Summary In this paper we consider reforms and innovations in spectrum policy that would enable and sustain an expanded public media to better support quality news, journalism, education, arts, and civic information in the 21st century. The Internet has remade the landscape of free expression, access to news and information, and media production. Thus, we are well past the moment when spectrum allocated to broadcasting could be considered as distinct from that allocated to wireless broadband networks. Such networks serve as primary channels for access to news and information, increasingly edging out over-the-air broadcasting as the essential infrastructure for media distribution.
Throughout the history of U.S. policymaking, access to spectrum and the airwaves has been linked to free speech and expression. The public sphere now includes not just one-way broadcast, but two-way broadband and mobile communications platforms. Given this, spectrum allocation has to be considered not only in terms of how it can serve the historic priorities of the nation’s Communications Act—localism, diversity and competition—but also the fact that anyone can produce and distribute media in the digital era. Simultaneously, the demands and structures of commercially driven media are swiftly eroding quality journalism, threatening a core foundation of our democracy. These developments necessitate new thinking on spectrum allocations and the obligations of spectrum licensees. More specifically, they underscore the need to develop policies that support and expand a broader public media to promote localism and a truly diverse marketplace of ideas, information, discourse and content.
Our proposals include: • Supplementing ill-enforced public interest obligations on commercial broadcasters with spectrum license fees that could support multi-platform public media • Supplanting one-time spectrum auctions with annual fees to sustain public media • Requiring spectrum licensees for mobile broadband to adhere to non-discrimination rules for Internet content, applications, and services • Requiring spectrum licenses for mobile broadband to adhere to universal service requirements
• Increasing the diversity of wireless providers in local communities • Facilitating community and locally owned wireless broadband infrastructure via unlicensed and opportunistic access to spectrum
Attorney David Oxenford of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP has a good overview of what procedures broadcasters might expect from the FCC in the matter of repacking and auctioning of television broadcast spectrum. Link: Broadcast Law Blog. Trackback (posted 20 Feb. 2012).
Updated 22 Feb. 2012: Attorney Stephen Coran of Rini Coran PC also has a good overview of provisions of this legislation. It goes in somewhat different directions than the Oxenford post from yesterday. Link: TelecomMediaTech Law Blog (posted 21 Feb. 2012).
And Attorney Rob Schill of Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth also has a useful analysis of the provisions of this legislation. Link: CommLawBlog (posted 18 Feb. 2012).
There has been some talk within the television industry of giving up part of one’s spectrum for remuneration. It appears that the only way to accomplish that would be to forgo reimbursements for repacking costs or to consolidate operations with another station or stations on a single channel.
Updated 24 Feb. 2012: The legislation which created this spectrum auction authority is contained in H.R. 3630, the “Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012,” now signed by the president. Link: Library of Congress [pdf].
Here’s Kim McAvoy’s in-depth report on the legislation. Link: TVNewsCheck (posted 17 Feb. 2012).
Updated 25 Feb. 2012: VP Technology for NBC Stations, Doug Lung, takes up some engineering aspects of this in his regular column. Link: TVTechnology.
Updated 28 Feb. 2012: Here is another good legal analysis of provisions in this legislation in the form of Harry Jessell’s interview with attorney John Hane of Pullsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. Link: TVNewsCheck.
... says Blair Levin, former FCC staffer who's described as the chief architect of the Commission's 2010 National Broadband Plan. The GOP version of this legislation:
... contains provisions designed to protect broadcasters who hang on to their spectrum. And they are what has Levin worried. ¶ "The legislation ties the FCC’s hands in a variety of ways," said Levin, who left the FCC following release of the broadband plan and is now attached to the Aspen Institute. "It opens it up to litigation risk, which then, in conjunction with the other handcuffs, makes it difficult to pull off a successful auction. ¶ "The nature of the bill dramatically increases the probability that there will be less spectrum recovered and less money for the [U.S.] Treasury."
Link: Article by Kim McAvoy in TVNewsCheck. Thanks to Joyce Herring for the tip.
Also see Jon Eggerton's Levin: Current Hill Take on Spectrum Auctions Likely Won't Work in Multichannel News. --Dennis
John Shepler does a five-part look forward on the competition for bandwidth ahead. I’m not necessarily endorsing everything he says and some of my fellow television broadcasters may want to take their amlodipine before reading, but it’s worth your time to read.
Thirty-six years ago, our attention was focused on a toothy great white shark which was terrorizing Amity Island, thanks to the artistry of Steven Spielberg and Peter Benchley. This summer, the dysfunctional family of 535 elected representatives to Congress are chomping up government expenditures looking for any savings that can’t be labeled a tax increase.
However, if you might think it’s safe to go back in the water, look for it to come up again in the so-called “super committee” that’s been put together to eliminate some more of the deficit by Christmas. Marguerite Reardon has a good summary of the situation at CNET.
An accelerated auction without adequate compensation to broadcasters who will have to move their channels in a repacking move could be harmful, and there are important considerations concerning interference and reduced coverage. On the other hand, broadcasters would also have an opportunity to use 4G and later systems for their own content distribution. So, it’s a mixed bag and it’s important to have enough time to plan and make necessary adjustments if spectrum is to be redeployed from broadcasting to telephony and wireless data. --Dennis
On four different occasions since early 2004, I’ve used information from the Television Bureau of Advertising web site (click “Cable & ADS” on the right navigation) to determine the number of households that use over-the-air reception (OTA) exclusively (that is, not counting antenna reception by secondary and tertiary receivers in wired cable and ADS homes). The term ADS refers to SMATV, MMDS, large-dish satellite, and DBS, and currently 30.6% of the 30.9% total ADS households are DBS subscribers.
On a tab labeled “ADS and Wired-Cable Penetration by DMA,” you’ll find for May 2011 a table of the 210 Nielsen DMA’s which contains a column labeled “% Cable and/or ADS” (there being a small percentage of homes that have both). If you subtract the numbers in this column from 100, you’ll get the OTA numbers for each market. No need to use some lame telephone survey to estimate this as the Consumer Electronics Association did in December 2010; TVB.org has it for just a little copy/paste work in Excel.
The first time I did this using November 2003 data, OTA-exclusives came up to 19.7M households. My most recent effort prior to this week used September 2006 data, and that showed 14.6M households (13.1% of TVHH). The one I did yesterday showed 11.1M households (9.6% of TVHH). ADS is now at an all-time high, so the addition of local channels to DBS has resulted in another decline in OTA.
So, yes, it’s falling and, yes, it’s gotten pretty low as a nationwide average. That’s some higher than the 8% in the CEA’s phone survey mentioned above that’s gotten some circulation (e.g., “Spectrum Reform Now” in The Technology Liberation Front blog).
From a public policy standpoint in a democracy, a national average of doesn’t mean a lot if there is a high “standard deviation” in the numbers that make up the average – and that’s the case here. There are 535 members of Congress who get to weigh in on what to do with spectrum policy, and when the Boise DMA has 30% OTA usage (antennas exclusively), four members of Congress get to have a vested interest. Ditto, when Los Angeles has 720,000 antenna-only households (13%), about 30 members of Congress have a vested interest. As L.A. proves, it’s not just rural markets – 15 of the top 50 DMA have 12.5% or greater OTA-exclusive usage. On the other hand, Congress members in New York City, Connecticut and Massachusetts might wonder what the fuss is about.
It’s that political complexity, fueled by the fact that OTA homes have a greater economic impact to stations (especially for public television which has underwriting and individual giving driven by viewing) than do homes with multi-channel programmers – perhaps double the value per household by my own guesstimate.
Don’t get me wrong, I think that freeing up additional wireless spectrum from broadcasters and others – voluntarily and properly compensated – ultimately is a good thing because services on multipurpose devices wireless and wired internet provides will be at least as important to broadcasters in the not too distant future as broadcast spectrum services will be. We broadcasters need it as much as anyone.
But let’s get our data right and make decisions based on understanding complexities, not over-simplifying for political expediency. Thanks to the TVB for their goldmine of information. --Dennis