Broadcasters: FCC plan would close 210 TV stations

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At a press conference announcing the report’s findings, former Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), now the head of the NAB, argued that broadcasters’ ability to relay important information during emergencies is a vital public service. 

Broadcasting “has always been one of America’s essential industries that is hugely important not just because it’s free, not just because it’s local, but especially because in times of emergencies, it’s absolutely essential,” Smith said. 

He added that due to broadcasters’ role in emergencies, a central question in the debate over spectrum allocation is “what is the worth of a soul?”

The FCC fought back against the report’s claims and accused the NAB of scaremongering. 

"NAB’s study misses the fact that an incentive auction will be market-driven and voluntary,” said Neil Grace, an FCC spokesman. “Our proposal will not shut down hundreds of stations; it will open up massive innovation and investment. It has twin benefits: it will help broadcasters interested in participating and unleash much needed spectrum — a key ingredient to meeting the demands of the mobile revolution. 

"Rather then engage in scare tactics, we urge NAB to work with us to achieve our shared legislative objectives to maintain a strong over-the-air broadcasting service."

The FCC’s National Broadband Plan seeks to more efficiently allocate the nation’s spectrum based on increasing demand for wireless broadband. The goal of the plan is to reclaim 120 MHz that is currently used by broadcasters and to put the spectrum up for auction. 

Revenue raised from the auctions would go in part to reimburse the stations that chose to give up their spectrum and to help pay off the nation’s debt.

The FCC insists that all auctions would be voluntary, but according to the NAB, the process would cost broadcasters who refused to sell their spectrum about $2.5 billion.

“On the one hand, we are very anxious to participate in that which is purely voluntary, but as we’ve said from the beginning we would hate to see this for reasons of physics or anything else to morph into something involuntary,” Smith said.

Smith also argued that the plan would make mobile DTV, television viewed on mobile devices and broadcast over television spectrum, “next to impossible.”

The wireless industry attacked NAB’s claims.

“While broadcasters say they need spectrum for mobile DTV, this technology has been possible for years, but hasn’t been built. Mobile broadband services are here today and their need for spectrum is now,” said Fred Campbell, president of the Wireless Communications Association International. 

“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,” Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president of CTIA-The Wireless Association, said in a statement. He emphasized that the FCC’s proposed auctions would be voluntary and the costs of transitioning would be reimbursed.

Michael Petricone, vice president of government affairs for the Consumer Electronics Association, accused the NAB of "simply trying to protect its business interests.” 

He said: “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.”

The Senate Commerce Committee approved a bill that included spectrum incentive auctions in June. It is possible spectrum auctions could be part of a deal to reduce the nation's debt because of its potential to raise billions of dollars for the government. 

This story was updated at 4:52 p.m.