Broadcasters sue FCC over airwave auction

TV and radio broadcasters filed a lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission on Monday over its rules for an upcoming airwave auction.

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) argues in its suit that the FCC’s rules for next year’s auction would allow fewer people to tune in to their stations while forcing broadcasters to spend hundreds of millions of dollars out of their own pockets.

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The FCC’s plan “oversteps congressional mandate and is likely to cause significant harm to broadcast television,” trade group Executive Vice president of Strategic Planning Rick Kaplan said in a statement.

Next year’s auction — which was ordered by Congress — will see the FCC buy back chunks of airwaves from broadcast companies and resell them to wireless providers such as Verizon and AT&T, which are hungry to meet subscribers’ demands for data to stream videos and play games on their cellphones and tablets.  

According to Kaplan, however, the rules for the auction leave broadcasters “with an auction that benefits everyone else while harming only them.”

For instance, the FCC's order changes the method for measuring the size of a broadcaster’s footprint, which stations worry could shrink their audience after the auction.

Broadcast stations remaining after the sell-off could also have to pay a total of at least $500 million to shift over to a new consolidated channel, the group claimed, in a process known as “repacking.” That cost would effectively force some stations to take part in the auction, which is supposed to be voluntary.

“Local broadcasters should not be forced to go out of pocket to help multi-national wireless giants,” Kaplan wrote in a blog post explaining the lawsuit.

“We are looking for a mid-course correction that better reflects Congress’ intent and that protects broadcasters and the millions of vulnerable over-the-air TV viewer.” 

An FCC spokesperson said in a statement that the commission was “confident” that its plan “fulfills the mandates established by Congress on this complex matter.”

CTIA-The Wireless Association, which represents major companies like AT&T as well as smaller firms, maintained on Monday that the FCC’s plan “strikes the right balance to ensure that consumers emerge as winners.”

“While we would prefer to work together collaboratively to address NAB’s concerns rather than resort to litigation, we are hopeful the court addresses these issues quickly and that the NAB adheres to its commitment for an expedited process without unnecessary delays,” Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Scott Bergmann said in a statement. 

 

Updated at 5:46 p.m.