Last week the State Broadcasters Associations of all fifty States, including the District of Columbia, joined in filing comments in the FCC’s Spectrum Auction rule making. That proceeding is considering rules and procedures under which the FCC will permit television stations to voluntarily surrender their spectrum usage rights, through a reverse or incentive auction process, and share in the proceeds generated by a forward auction during which wireless providers and others will bid for the “surrendered” spectrum as well as for spectrum that has been freed up as a result of “repacking” the spectrum used by television stations nationwide.
The Massachusetts Broadcasters Association joined in that filing in order (i) to protect the operations, signal integrity and coverage of the television station members in Massachusetts which decide not to participate, or participate unsuccessfully, in the FCC’s proposed auction process, and (ii) to help those of you, which may decide to participate in the auction process, to achieve your business objectives.
We expressed concern that the proceeding not materially adversely affect, either near-term or long-term, your television stations by potentially disrupting and diminishing your operations or by altering the established viewing habits and expectations of the people you serve in terms of the timely availability of news, emergency and other informational programming, as well as entertainment programming. As an organization that directly works, on your behalf, with emergency management officials and representatives at all levels of government, we also emphasized your “First Informer” role, urging the Commission to avoid any actions that could potentially impair, on a nationwide, regional, state, county or local level, the effective emergency communications services that you ubiquitously and reliably provide to your communities.
Pointing out the length of time the DTV transition took and the fact Congress has given the Commission until 2022 to complete the auction process, we urged the FCC to take the time necessary to get it right the first time, rather than act simply to get it done. In support of this point, we emphasized that Congress expressly contemplated that successful international coordinations with Canada and Mexico would be conditions precedent to the commencement of the reverse and forward auctions. We also stressed Congress’ intent that a station’s decision to participate in the reverse auction must be truly “voluntary” which means that every station must have enough information available to it to determine the pros and cons of participating or not in the reserve auction, i.e., likely effects of repacking on its operations and the scope and timing of reimbursement for those stations which do not participate in the reverse auction process, as well as the payment schedule for those stations which successfully participate in that process. With respect to repacking, we took the position that the area and population of every station subject to repacking must remain the same and that any increase in interference must be truly de minimis. We urged the Commission to adopt a very broad list of expenses for which reimbursement would be proper, and to give stations more time to complete any required modifications to their facilities as a result of repacking. We also stressed the importance, from a competitive standpoint, of maintaining the confidentiality of every station which participates in the reverse auction unless such participation is disclosed or authorized by the licensee.