Broadcasters urge FCC to use holistic approach on broadband


An FCC NPRM that seeks comment on three matters relating to repurposing television spectrum for broadband is too narrow, in the view of broadcasters represented by NAB and MSTV. The organizations say the issues are best addressed as part of a much wider proceeding.

The issues specifically addressed in the FCC’s ET Docket No. 10-235 are summed up in its name: “Allocations, Channel Sharing and Improvements to VHF.”

In their comments, NAB/MSTV said, “We note, however, that this NPRM addresses only three discrete matters when, in reality, the issues raised are far broader. The three proposals discussed in the NPRM are integrally related to an array of other issues that are not formally within the scope of this NPRM.”

The basic point being made is that the FCC’s approach should be based on forwarding broadcasting and broadband as complementary services rather than as an either/or proposition, and in particular, taking advantage of the efficiency of the one-to-many distribution system used by broadcasters, placing far less demand on spectrum than the one-to-one model used by other wireless distribution systems.

In particular, the development of mobile television, which is already under way, could be a major part of the future, particularly when it comes to one of the major sticking points in the entire spectrum debate – the distribution of video content. NAB suggests, for example, that the increasing memory capacity of consumer mobile devices could be used to acquire video programming from broadcasters, to be viewed when desired, creating a virtual on-demand model.

NAB/MSTV identified several areas that they believe should be addressed in addition to the three specific areas FCC touched on in the NPRM:

* assess the capability of technological breakthroughs to enhance the wireless industry’s ability to use its existing spectrum resources more efficiently, and evaluate other ways to alleviate the capacity crunch the wireless industry may be facing;

* complete and seek comment, as urged in pending legislation, on the results and implications of its survey of utilization of spectrum under its jurisdiction and the spectrum surveys undertaken by other government agencies, per the President’s memorandum of June 28, 2010;

* assess the trade-offs associated with shifting significant amounts of spectrum dedicated to broadcasting to wireless broadband services, and weigh the potential consumer and competitive harms of reallocating spectrum from the public’s free broadcasting services to subscription wireless operations;

* explore other means of expanding broadband access; and

* make public, and solicit and consider comment on, closely related issues before it acts on the three issues targeted for discussion by this NPRM.

As for the specifics of the NPRM, NAB/MSTV noted that they have no problem with channel sharing as long as participation is entirely voluntary – and this concept is expressed in very strong terms; they suggest that the complex technical issues associated with channel sharing should best be left to the parties that elect to take that route; and note that proposals to improve VHF signals may create as many problems as they solve and suggested reliance on consumer education to make sure they know what they need in an antenna for their own particular reception solutions. They also suggest establishment of enhanced labeling and performance metrics.

NAB/MSTV said that one of current commissioners has expressed ideas that should be explored more fully. They cited comments of Robert McDowell, who wrote,  ‘I’ve been a longtime proponent of encouraging broadcasters to lease some of their spectrum for wireless broadband purposes, and now is the time to dig into this concept seriously. How would this approach work in the context of increasing the availability of wireless broadband? What are the technical issues, as well as the business feasibility issues? Would this approach be a faster means of getting more spectrum for broadband into the marketplace than the channel-sharing concept.”

The full document can be viewed here.

RBR-TVBR observation: What is striking about the NAB/MSTV document is the frequency with which the writers are forced to note items upon which they are asked to comment without all the facts on the table. There are lots of sentences like this: “However, it is not clear from the NPRM what specific steps the Commission has in mind or what consequences could flow from them.” Broadcasters will have to be vigilant in protecting their interests as this proceeding moves forward, and the FCC should take it easy – a perceived need for speed should be tempered by an overriding desire to get it right – and clearly all the facts needed to get it right are not in yet. A true spectrum inventory that focuses on usage would be a start.