A group of broadcasters that calls itself The Advanced Television Broadcasting Alliance is urging the NAB and others in the television industry to encourage all broadcasters not to participate in the upcoming broadcast TV spectrum auctions. The Alliance (formerly known as the Coalition for Free TV and Broadband) is made up of low-power television stations, translators, full power television broadcasters and allied industry organizations and companies.
The move was sparked by a letter sent from Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) to Gordon Smith, president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). In it, Shapiro congratulated the NAB on a successful convention (which attracted nearly 92,000 people in April) and asked him to stop expressing skepticism about TV participation in incentive spectrum auctions.
In the letter, Shapiro stated, “I write to ask that you reconsider your public (and also private) posturing on the law allowing voluntary incentive spectrum auctions. Your speech at the NAB Show appeared to be rather discouraging of broadcaster participation in these auctions.”
Mark Aitken, vice president of Advanced Technology for Sinclair Broadcasting and an Alliance Board Member, said the Alliance believes the CEA’s request “borders on arrogance to ask the NAB to cheerlead for an action that would lead to the diminishing of their industry and the robbing of the American public of the free airwaves.”
Aitken and the CEA have been at odds over the spectrum auctions from the very beginning, with the CEA supporting its members’ desire to acquire spectrum for unlicensed wireless uses. The NAB supported a law passed earlier this year that authorizes the FCC to carry out the auctions. Aitken feels stations would be foolish to give up their spectrum and essentially go out of business.
Late last year The Alliance proposed an alternative television platform, designed by Aitken, that they are calling a “Broadcast Overlay Plan.” It basically allows wireless carriers to “off-load” IP traffic onto the broadcast TV infrastructure, rather than auction off TV spectrum to wireless providers. The group said this approach would create more effective bandwidth for both television and wireless industries, and could generate 10-16 times more revenue for the U.S. Treasury than a spectrum auction.
“Mr. Shapiro, in putting the wireless carriers in front of broadcasters, not only fails in his vision for the future of the CEA’s membership, but has lost sight of the singular role the TV Broadcast industry played in making HDTV and television his industry's product roadmap for more than a decade,” Aitken said. “If Shapiro decided to work with broadcasters and help bring our vision of a ‘Broadcast Overlay’ and new TV platform to reality, he could participate in the next decade of revolution for his membership, and actually solve the bandwidth crunch of the carriers. It's time to work together...again."
Aitken said the Alliance believes two views are being expressed on the future of television. First, the pessimists groups believe local TV is in a steep decline so they seek to hasten the industry’s demise. However, broadcasters, viewers, advertisers, local communities remain excited about the future potential of television in this digital age. They are the entrepreneurs and business pioneers who built the television industry, created jobs-stimulating the economy for decades. The Alliance believes TV's best years are still ahead.”
Irwin Podhajser, Chairman of the Alliance and an independent broadcast consultant, said that giving up control of the broadcast airwaves will lead to less competition, less diversity and less jobs.
“There is simply a better way that will bring broadcasting into the future, create more choices for consumers and solve the wireless broadband crunch without handing control of the free airwaves over to a couple of wireless companies," he said.
Last month former FCC Commissioner, Michael Copps called for an independent inventory of available spectrum during an interview with the C-SPAN series “The Communicators,” stating that he thinks there is a lot of unused spectrum to be had.
“There is a lot of spectrum out there, and I don’t think anybody in the United States has very much of a clue exactly how much spectrum is lying fallow,” he said.
Copps said he believes that there’s a “whole bunch of [spectrum] lying fallow that could fuel a whole lot of devices and fuel a whole lot of technology.”
Dennis Wharton, the NAB’s Executive Vice President of Communications, has said the NAB “has no quarrel with incentive auctions so long as broadcasters who choose to stay in business are held harmless. That means no material loss of viewers through repacking, compensation for forced relocation to another channel position.”