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  • Bob Weller 10:24 am on March 30, 2015 Permalink
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    Defanging a Paper Tiger 

    Every broadcaster dreads a visit by a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) inspector, but broadcasters also know that the presence of the “Highway Patrol of the Airwaves” helps keep the playing field level and the participants honest. Violators of the FCC’s rules risk detection and know that a fine (or worse) may result.

    For longer than the FCC itself has existed, a network of field offices has been key to maintaining order on the airwaves by resolving interference disputes, shutting down unlicensed operators and providing valuable and dispassionate advice on the FCC’s rules and policies that help minimize ongoing spectrum conflicts. The FCC’s own website observes that its field offices are its “eyes and ears” on the ground. Unfortunately, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is now circulating an order that effectively leaves the FCC in the dark.

    Earlier this month, Chairman Wheeler proposed to his colleagues to close more than half of the FCC’s field offices and cut field enforcement staff by almost two-thirds. New York City, Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas and Columbia, Maryland: that’s the entire list of offices that would remain open. Slated for closure are offices near major cities like Seattle, Denver, Boston, Philadelphia and Houston.

    GPS outage in Honolulu? Chairman Wheeler says he’ll send a “Tiger Team” from Columbia, Maryland, to work on it. Sheriff department radios getting jammed in Tampa? Someone will be there within 24 hours, he told Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12). All technical enforcement for the entire nation will be handled by a cadre of just 33 FCC agents spread across only eight offices.

    As it stands today, most of the field offices already operate with only a skeleton crew. In 1995, the FCC automated its monitoring station operations, resulting in the closure of more than a dozen field offices with a commensurate reduction in staffing. Some of the remaining offices were converted to “Resident Agencies,” a euphemism for a one- or two-person office with no support staff. At that time, the FCC offered early retirement and a humane personnel relocation program. Increased training, improved technology and a reasonable travel budget were offered as assurances that no reduction in enforcement effectiveness would result.

    In the past couple of weeks, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau informed stakeholders that there would be no reduction in enforcement effectiveness because there would be increased training for the remaining agents, improved technology and an increase in travel funds. Do those assurances sound familiar? Even if all of the promises are kept about new training and new equipment and more money for gasoline, and even if the FCC continues to largely ignore all complaints except for interference to public safety (as they do today), the proposed staffing numbers just don’t add up. People take leave, training takes time, on-scene investigations mean in-office paperwork. So, the actual number of field agents available for assignment on a typical day might be half the total, or 16. Sixteen pairs of boots on the ground, doing field investigations for the FCC for the entire country. Think about that.

    In 1935, shortly after the FCC was established, there were about 50,000 FCC-licensed stations, including two-way, broadcast, amateur and marine. Unlicensed devices, such as WiFi, microwave ovens and garage door openers did not exist. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of licensed stations and hundreds of millions of unlicensed devices. How can the FCC reasonably expect to keep on top of all these transmitters and ensure the safety of Americans with a day-to-day crew of perhaps 16 field agents nationwide?

    The problems with the FCC’s spectrum enforcement plan will only be compounded by its intention to promote additional spectrum sharing. NAB supports the concept of spectrum sharing, but a robust mechanism for enforcement is critical to ensure that devices operate only on the frequencies they are authorized. Even if a fraction of a percent of devices have incorrect data or malfunction, widespread interference – including interference to safety-of-life services – will result. That means disrupted emergency and AMBER Alerts, unreliable police and fire communications, riskier air travel and a host of other scary possibilities.

    Just last week, NAB filed an emergency petition for rulemaking asking the FCC to fix its broken white space database. One-third or more of the database entries contain errors, many of them serious enough to obscure the location and/or ownership of the actual transmitters, which are required to register in a database so that they can be shut down if interference occurs. The FCC is now proposing to expand use of white spaces in part because of the purported sparkling quality and wild success of the database system. Further, the agency proposes to use the white space database system as a model for frequency-sharing in other bands, including some used by Department of Defense radars and weak-signal satellite downlinks.

    The unauthorized use of devices can, and has in the past, caused widespread interference – including interference to safety-of-life services. FCC field staff are uniquely qualified with training, equipment and authority to locate and shut down such devices. Even if the affected user is able to identify the source of the problem, there is no right of private action in the Communications Act that could force the source shut down. State and local law enforcement are reluctant to take on interference or unauthorized transmitter cases due, understandably, to lack of expertise. FCC field staff possess the expertise and have sole authority to investigate and enforce laws relating to radio.

    Fortunately, there is still time for the FCC to reverse course and rethink its proposal to gut the field offices. Perhaps it took the proposal itself to help the agency realize just how valuable those who use radio frequencies believe the field offices to be. Most of all, at a time when it the FCC is pursuing policies that will inevitably create an environment where interference is more likely to occur, it must not devastate its field enforcement resources.

     
  • jeriannetimmerman 10:45 am on February 19, 2015 Permalink
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    Double Standards, DISH and Designated Entities 

    The FCC should have been taking a victory lap following its $45 billion AWS-3 auction, which closed in late January. Instead, the agency was left fending off widespread criticism that “loopholes” in its auction rules effectively gave billions of dollars in subsidies to one of the largest corporations in the country.

    These criticisms arose from disclosures that two companies in which DISH Network reportedly has an 85 percent stake claimed about $3 billion total in “bidding credits” when acquiring licenses in the FCC’s AWS-3 auction. Bidding credits allow a bidder to reduce by some percentage its actual payment on its winning bids following an FCC auction. In this instance, DISH’s interests in Northstar Wireless and SNR Wireless – smaller companies with “designated entity” status under the FCC’s auction rules – will allow DISH to reduce its bill to the Treasury from around $13 billion to about $10 billion. Unsurprisingly, the headlines generated across the political spectrum decried these “government handouts” to large corporations and the “rip[ping] off” of U.S. taxpayers.

    While the public reaction focused on the massive subsidies afforded to DISH, broadcasters in particular were left scratching their heads. Less than a year ago, the FCC decided to treat a broadcast TV station that sells more than 15 percent of the advertising time of another TV station in the same market as owning that second station. As a result, stations in most markets are forbidden from selling more than 15 percent of the ad time of another station under the FCC’s decades-old broadcast ownership rules.

    How in the world does the FCC square its treatment of various forms of ownership? Why can’t a small TV station in South Dakota or South Carolina sell 20 percent of the advertising time of another station without the FCC saying it “owns” that station, when DISH can possess an 85 percent interest in a company without the FCC counting that as ownership?

    These diametrically opposed policies cannot be reconciled or justified. The FCC decided to attribute TV joint sales agreements (JSAs) under its broadcast ownership rules due to the supposedly significant influence that the joint sale of even small amounts of advertising time would provide one TV station over another. Indeed, the FCC is so convinced of the supposed harms of these JSAs that even long-established agreements expressly approved by the Commission must now be unwound, regardless of the detriment to the two stations.

    But now, remarkably, the FCC appears poised to determine that DISH’s 85 percent interest does not so significantly influence the two designated entity companies, thereby resulting in a free $3 billion to DISH in the AWS-3 auction. Even for broadcasters unfortunately inured to inconsistent, unfair and anti-competitive regulatory treatment, this outcome reaches a new low.

    NAB and its members have for decades fought the FCC’s disparate restrictions on the multiple and cross-ownership of television and radio stations – restrictions that do not apply to competing video and audio providers, including cable, satellite and online. The FCC must stop this unfair treatment if it truly cares about competition, diversity and localism. Rather than imposing uncompetitive ownership structures on broadcast stations that provide free local service, while at the same time shelling out billions in subsidies to pay-TV operators that charge consumers ever-higher subscription fees, the Commission should reform its rules to let broadcasters compete on equal footing.

     
  • Dennis Wharton 9:35 am on November 20, 2014 Permalink  

    Dumb Stuff Said in Washington, D.C. 

    Inside the bubble of Washington, DC — which often challenges Hollywood as the true entertainment capital of the world — one hears astonishingly silly proclamations almost daily.

    Last week, however, I heard a whopper that deserves entry into DC’s Hall of Fame of Dumb Stuff Said.

    The comment came during a panel discussion at the National Press Club. The topic: whether Internet-delivered program content will result in a “break-up” of “bundled” cable TV packages. Panelists included Wall Street investment analysts and academics who purportedly are expert pundits in the communications world.

    During the question-and-answer session, an audience member posed a timely question: How does the rise of web-delivered content impact localism? Should the importance of localism be factored into the debate when Congress considers a rewrite of the Communications Act? And is the value of localism worth consideration as the FCC weighs designating “over-the-top” Internet providers MVPD (multichannel video program distributor) status?

    Not to worry, replied one of the panelists. “Localism,” he said with smug certainty, “is a myth.”

    Broadcasters long ago abandoned localism, the panelist continued. The real concern is the loss of local newspapers at the local level, he said.

    SAY WHAT?

    But wait, there was more.

    The esteemed panelist suggested that the only reason TV broadcasters still hold spectrum is because of the clout of the TV lobby. The FCC’s upcoming incentive auction will rightly re-direct airwaves that broadcasters are “wasting” to a more efficient use — wireless broadband, claimed the panelist.

    Those of us in broadcasting have heard the “highest and best use of spectrum” narrative many times before.

    It’s a claim that comes courtesy of our competitors — the well-funded pay-TV and wireless lobbies who bankroll “retransmission consent reform” efforts — along with “research” crafted with a pre-determined outcome that dismisses the value of free and local broadcasting.

    It’s been apparent for years that there is a concerted effort by broadcasting’s primary competitors to eliminate local TV as a competitive threat to their nirvana world — a world where “free” is eliminated from the telecommunications lexicon and programming content is only made available to those who will pay for it. In their world, the highest and best use of spectrum is used only by those who charge a fee for delivering content.

    But only of late have we been confronted with the bald-faced falsehood that “localism is a myth.”

    THE ONLY MYTH IS THAT LOCALISM IS A MYTH

    So let’s drill deeper into the fundamental question: Is localism a myth? Have broadcasters stopped doing local programming?

    The answer, resoundingly, is no.

    Every day, across America, broadcasters are delivering local content on multiple platforms that keeps communities informed, educated, and safe in an emergency. Local news is a trusted source of information, and is viewed by the public as a far more credible source of information than what’s on cable, satellite or the Internet.

    In fact, local news still commands a huge audience, and more broadcasters are delivering local news at a nearly all-time high.

    In many cities, such as Indianapolis, Grand Rapids and Charlotte, broadcasters have begun offering local news as early as 4 a.m. to meet the growing needs of a commuter-driven workforce.

    Even cable news networks like CNN – when there is a breaking emergency situation in Anytown, USA – are carrying live coverage from LOCAL TV STATIONS. So much for the “myth” of localism.

    And guess where Americans turn for election coverage? You got it – the local broadcaster. Even C-SPAN, the cable network that gets wide praise for even-handed political coverage, gets much of its election programming in the form of live debate feeds from local TV stations.

    Indeed, it was a banner year for election coverage, courtesy of local radio and TV stations who offered more free time for candidate profiles, debates, and hard news reporting than in any mid-term election in history.

    Earlier this year, the Pew Foundation found that local TV news viewing is up throughout the day. Nearly three out of four adult Americans tune in regularly to local news, compared to just 38% who watch cable news, according to Pew.

    Investigative journalism at local television stations has replaced the daily newspaper as the government watchdog. Don’t take my word for it; just look at the number of broadcast TV stations who are Peabody and Edward R. Murrow award winners for quality investigative journalism. From Gannett to E.W. Scripps to Hearst to Dispatch Broadcasting to Cox to Raycom to LIN (and many others), local broadcasters are dedicating huge resources to investigative journalism, holding public officials accountable, and offering tough consumer reporting that is second to none.

    A LIFELINE IN CRISIS

    Nowhere is the value of broadcast localism more apparent than in times of emergency. We’ve seen time and again the remarkable, boots-on-the-ground reporting by local broadcast reporters during tornadoes and hurricanes. At great personal risk, broadcasters have waded into harm’s way during tornado outbreaks in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Joplin, Missouri, in Moore, Oklahoma, and in the path of Hurricane Sandy.

    And there is no question that local TV weathercasters in Tornado Alley have been responsible for saving countless lives.

    Broadcast station personnel cover wildfires in the west, flooding in the Dakotas, and record cold temperatures throughout the country.

    When cellphones and the Internet crash because of overcapacity, it is the local broadcaster that is always on, always there.

    And unquestionably, it is the local broadcaster that galvanizes relief efforts once a crisis or natural disaster is over. Not because the government demands it — but because community service is just part of the makeup of a local broadcaster.

    FEMA: TRUST YOUR LOCAL BROADCASTER

    Why don’t we ask Craig Fugate if he agrees with the claim that “localism is a myth”? Fugate oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and is responsible for keeping Americans safe when disaster strikes. Here’s what Fugate told CNN as Hurricane Irene was bearing down on the Eastern seaboard three years ago:

    “Those local broadcasters are going to be giving you the best information, real time, from those local officials out of those press conferences. So make sure you got your radio and television…and again cell phones get congested, but we did have some success with people text messaging or using social media…but remember cell phones themselves in heavy congestion may not be able to get through. And stay off the phones if it is not an emergency, because other people may be trying to call 911. Use text messaging, use land lines, but again local TV and radio are going to probably be one of the best sources of information from those local officials during the crunch time of evacuation.”

    Need more proof that local broadcasting remains the trusted resource for emergency information? Well how about this:

    In one of the most prominent acts of domestic terrorism in American history — during the Boston Marathon bombing — President Obama abandoned cable news for the reliable, authoritative reporting from Boston’s LOCAL TV stations. Just as America knows that broadcasters are always on in times of emergency, so too does the leader of the free world.

    No wonder that 68% of Bostonians watched local TV news — NOT cable and NOT the Internet — during the search for the terrorist attackers. And no wonder that the Columbia Journalism Review reported the following:

    “Local Boston TV news has reported the whole thing, and done an absolutely heroic and tremendous job of it, proving that, even though local TV news is often maligned, it can serve a huge need in times of crisis — and can rise to the occasion when other, national outlets do not.”

    Bottom line: When the leader of the free world and the administrator of FEMA say “Trust your local broadcaster,” perhaps it’s time for Ivory Tower academics to acknowledge that free and local broadcasting remains an indispensable resource for every American.

    Broadcasters are not perfect, and nor are broadcasting’s critics. Our challenges are many as we move our programming to a multi-platform, multi-screen world.

    But as the original wireless technology, broadcasting is reinventing itself before our eyes and will remain available to every American in every community, free of charge.

    And yes: localism is alive, well and thriving.

     
  • rickaplan 11:09 am on November 17, 2014 Permalink  

    Let’s Not Fumble the Over-the-Top Opportunity 

    FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler recently circulated a proposal to his colleagues that recommends classifying certain over-the-top providers as multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs). The proposal aims to stimulate competition in the increasingly consolidated pay-television market.

    NAB agrees these are worthy goals. Emerging over-the-top distribution provides an opportunity to unleash new competitive alternatives while preserving and enhancing localism and diversity in the Internet age. Broadcasters support the deployment of new and innovative video services that have the potential to boost competition to the benefit of consumers. We are committed to providing our highly sought after and unique blend of local and national content on any device wherever Americans want and need access.

    Broadcasters are doing much of that innovation on their own today. ABC developed one of the original iPad apps, now referred to as “Watch ABC,” giving consumers a new avenue to great content from the earliest days of the tablet. Fox and Univision have announced plans for similar services, as has NBC with its NBC Now Service. Syncbak, a smartphone and tablet app developed by broadcasters, provides local viewers access to broadcast television through Internet-enabled devices. And just recently, CBS announced CBS All Access, its new over-the-top service, experimenting with new ways for consumers to access CBS stations from around the country. These are just a few examples of recent innovations that have furthered consumer access to broadcast content online, and the fact remains that local broadcast stations have the most viewed local content on the Web.

    The FCC’s new inquiry, while intriguing, does have its challenges. It will take an open-minded and thoughtful approach to address the complex web of legal, policy and practical implications inherent in applying facilities-based rules to over-the-top providers. It is therefore somewhat concerning that, in recent public comments, Chairman Wheeler appeared not to appreciate these complexities:

    “By facilitating access to [broadcast TV] content, we expect Internet-based linear programming services to develop as a competitor to cable and satellite. Consumers will be able to buy the channels they want instead of having to pay for channels they don’t want. As you know, a startup called Aereo has already proposed doing this, but the broadcasters were able to stop it in court, in part because of the old rules of the FCC. Aereo wasn’t the reason for the new rules, but the idea that entrepreneurs should be able to assemble programs to offer consumers choices is something that shouldn’t be hindered by the FCC.”

    First, by asserting that “the broadcasters were able to stop [Aereo] in court,” the Chairman conveniently ignores that broadcasters were not the only ones to object to Aereo’s illegal operation: the Justice Department did as well. As the Solicitor General argued to the Supreme Court, “[Aereo’s] unauthorized Internet retransmissions violate… statutory requirements and infringe [broadcasters’] public-performance rights under [the Copyright Act].” The Obama Administration was therefore as responsible for “stopping” Aereo as broadcasters were.

    Second, the Chairman misidentifies not only who, but what actually stood in the way of allowing Aereo to continue to misappropriate content. It wasn’t “the old rules of the FCC.” It was a statute: the Copyright Act. The Act is designed to ensure that content creators are fairly compensated for the work they develop, and derives from rights explicitly prescribed by the U.S. Constitution. If the Aereos of the world could simply take what local stations and networks pour billions of dollars into producing and turn around and charge consumers for it – especially with no added value – content creators would have little or no incentive to produce that work. That is why the Supreme Court found that Aereo “infringe[d]” on the networks’ exclusive right” under the Act. Thus, even if the Chairman could unilaterally change the FCC’s “old rules” today, Aereo’s business model would still violate the law.

    Third, simply because someone introduces a new service, he or she is not suddenly an “entrepreneur that shouldn’t be hindered by the FCC.” Shouldn’t it matter to the FCC, at a bare minimum, whether content is distributed legally or illegally? Aereo was innovative only in its creative attempt to skirt the copyright laws, not, for example, in the quality or speed of its streaming service. Let’s not forget that Aereo is only now approaching the FCC to obtain MVPD status, having waited until after the Supreme Court made clear that its attempt to charge consumers without compensating rights holders plainly violated the law.

    NAB supports the FCC examining how best to ensure that online entities can offer competitive alternatives. It is an important inquiry. While it presents exciting opportunities for consumers, however, without the proper level of humility and recognition of all of its challenges, it could lead to serious pitfalls. Tough questions loom, including how to handle a deluge of new potential MVPDs, how to avoid further homogenizing news, weather, sports and entertainment, and how to prevent stifling new business models outside of the MVPD context that could further enhance consumer welfare. These are all essential ingredients that must be in the mix. And yes, the law matters.

    The FCC has a terrific chance to get this challenging and novel proceeding right. If it does, we are likely to see increased competition, localism and diversity. But a healthy respect for the law and the incentives it creates (and prevents) is essential at the outset. We look forward to working with the FCC as it forges ahead in this unchartered territory.

     
  • rickaplan 1:10 pm on September 10, 2014 Permalink  

    Sorry to Disappoint, But NAB Is Playing It Straight Up 

    FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler certainly traveled a great distance simply to accuse the NAB yesterday in Las Vegas of seeking to delay or derail his upcoming broadcast spectrum incentive auction. With all due respect Mr. Chairman, I fear that your comments are not only wrong, but will create the very uncertainties and distractions you say you want to avoid.

    At both the CCA and CTIA wireless conferences, the Chairman seemed overly preoccupied by NAB’s lawsuit to overturn certain targeted elements of the Commission’s incentive auction order. Among other related comments, in his prepared remarks the Chairman noted that, if NAB “w[as] to win, the effect would be to delay the auction, notwithstanding NAB’s claims to the contrary.”

    The NAB “claims” to which the Chairman refers is a blog I recently wrote that details everything NAB is doing to have our legal concerns addressed as soon as possible. NAB did not file a petition for reconsideration first, as T-Mobile and Sprint did, which would have given us another layer of process behind which to hide if we really were aiming for delay. We did not wait until the last minute in the 60-day period during which legal challenges could be filed; we filed on day one. And we affirmatively sought and were granted expedited review of our lawsuit to ensure that it moved rapidly. Hard to assail our efforts to move as expeditiously as possible.

    What the Chairman was really saying, however, is that, if NAB wins, then NAB will have caused the auction to be delayed. I guess in one sense that is correct, as the court finding that the FCC acted unlawfully would necessitate a reworking of the rules in question. But if the court finds in our favor, isn’t it the FCC that is responsible for the delay? NAB has laid out why we believe the FCC has acted outside the law in a few distinct areas. We have even proposed numerous compromise solutions that seek to help the FCC achieve what it wants while not harming broadcasters or skirting the law. So if the FCC insists on seeing the litigation through and loses, then it has no one else to blame but itself. Don’t pin that on us.

    Look, I’ve been around a bit and I get it. It’s easy to blame the broadcasters when everyone else is chomping at the bit to get our spectrum – whether free (“unlicensed”), paid for in full (AT&T/Verizon Wireless) or at a discounted, government-subsidized rate (T-Mobile, Sprint, DISH).  It’s certainly easier to point the finger at someone else rather than ponder other potentially misguided policy decisions that have undermined trust with the very industries needed to participate in the auction. Easier than blaming the rocky net neutrality proceeding which has sucked nearly all of the air out of the auction room and scared wireless carriers into focusing solely on whether they will be subject to a bevy of new government regulation. Easier than blaming the frayed trust with broadcasters as a result of forcing them to unwind scores of sharing arrangements that had only recently been expressly blessed by the Commission. Easier than blaming the fact that, until just recently, senior FCC leadership has shown little interest in collaborating with broadcasters who are interested in continuing to serve their communities. And it is definitely easier than blaming the fact that would-be spectrum sellers still have no idea what kind of return they can reasonably expect in the auction.

    Despite all of these unfortunate self-created obstacles, we at NAB still believe this auction can be a success. We strongly recommend avoiding further finger pointing and getting to the table to try to find the best solutions for all stakeholders. Inventing rumors of wireless carrier disinterest or about NAB “elements” that don’t like the auction is a waste of everyone’s time. NAB has worked very well with all other industries in this proceeding, even when we’ve disagreed with them. We all have an auction to run. NAB is ready. We are willing. But it would sure help if we had a partner at the helm of the FCC.

     
  • rickaplan 2:49 pm on August 18, 2014 Permalink  

    Getting the Auction Back On Track 

    NAB today filed suit against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in federal court to challenge certain elements of the Commission’s May 2014 incentive auction order, which was published in the Federal Register last Friday. The order, approved by a sharply divided Commission, establishes the “framework” for the FCC’s first-ever voluntary broadcast television spectrum incentive auction. That framework improperly diminishes key broadcaster protections embodied in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (“Spectrum Act”), and undermines the overall efficacy of the auction. Unfortunately, the Commission’s action has left NAB with no choice but to seek legal redress.

    Before explaining the substance of some of our objections, let me be clear about what our petition is not about: delay. NAB has never advocated for – in words or deeds – any undue delay in the auction. Where we’ve identified concerns with the auction or repacking design, we’ve suggested multiple reasonable and expeditious solutions. Consistent with that approach, we have filed our petition at the outset of the 60-day filing window and we will be seeking expedited review. Our aim is to resolve our core challenges as quickly as possible, so the FCC can immediately return to its auction preparations. We believe the court can help us swiftly address our discrete issues.

    The Spectrum Act was hailed largely because it achieves an important balance. On the one hand, it seeks to fuel the commercial wireless industry’s insatiable desire for spectrum. On the other hand, as with the recent DTV transition, the Act aims to protect broadcasters and their viewers in an otherwise unsettling repacking process.

    Broadcasters ultimately supported the auction legislation not because it gave them a chance to get out of the business – even a “successful” auction will only see no more than 15 percent of the 2,200 eligible broadcasters go off the air – but because Congress ensured, with the FCC’s backing, that broadcasters who choose not to enter the fray will not be harmed in the process. While there are many aspects of the legislation that make this point clear, perhaps the simplest and most direct expression of this balance for broadcasters is that participation in the auction is voluntary.

    There are three critical ways in which Congress did its best to ensure that auction participation remains voluntary and protect broadcasters and their viewers during and following the auction. Unfortunately, the FCC’s order is not faithful to these elements, and thus, fails to meet Congress’ mandate.

    First, Congress instructed the FCC to take “all reasonable efforts” to preserve broadcasters’ coverage areas and to allow them to continue to serve the same people they serve today. Unfortunately, the FCC reads this passage as if they must only take “reasonable” efforts to protect broadcasters and their viewers. The FCC believes that Congress left a substantial gulf between “reasonable” and all other kinds of efforts, and therefore Congress developed a fairly low bar for Commission compliance.

    A plain reading of Congress’ direction to the FCC, however, requires it to do all it can to protect broadcasters and the viewers who rely on them. Congress inserted the word “reasonable” simply to give the FCC some measure of flexibility in the unusual case where perfectly replicating a particular broadcaster’s coverage area and population served would jeopardize the success of the entire auction. If that circumstance were to arise, Congress provided the FCC with the flexibility to allow the auction to proceed, even if a small reduction in service area occurred for a particular broadcaster in a particular market. That is the fair equilibrium that Congress desired.

    Second, in an effort to ensure that broadcasters do not have to pay for their forced moves during repacking, Congress established a fund for the FCC to reimburse non-participating broadcasters that the FCC requires to relocate. The reimbursement concept was a key part of the FCC’s pitch to Congress in the run-up to the passage of the Spectrum Act. As former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said to broadcasters in a speech at the 2011 NAB Show, in the auction “it’s essential that broadcasters be treated fairly. That means, for example, that broadcasters should be fully compensated for any costs of any channel changes.”

    The FCC incentive auction order, however, does little to ensure that the Commission won’t repack beyond its financial means and that broadcasters won’t get stuck with the bill. Indeed, conservative projections suggest that broadcasters will be out of pocket at least $500 million dollars by the conclusion of the auction and repack. And for what purpose; which broadcasters gain? None. Local broadcasters should not be forced to go out of pocket to help multi-national wireless giants.

    Third, Congress took the unusual step of instructing the FCC on exactly how to compute the broadcasters’ coverage areas and populations served. It specifically stated that the FCC must use the same approach it uses today to evaluate any new station application, called OET-69. The FCC, however, sees Congress’ direction as inconvenient, and thus has made changes to this time-honored methodology (and for purposes of this auction only). The result is that, what Congress assumed to be a constant in the auction process – the methodology for calculating broadcaster coverage areas and population served – now is reducing the coverage areas and populations served for the majority of broadcasters. That methodological change was not part of the deal, and the FCC has improperly and imprudently moved the goalposts from the goal line on which we all agreed. In fact, the OET-69 provision was inserted into the Spectrum Act precisely to avoid this kind of mid-stream resizing.

    The net effect of all of these changes (and others) is that broadcasters are effectively left with an auction that benefits everyone else while harming only them. NAB’s lawsuit is not designed to derail the auction, or even slow it down. 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 viewers. We believe strongly that the FCC itself can achieve a better balance. If not, with this litigation we can right the ship that puts more spectrum out in the marketplace while ensuring a vibrant and robust broadcasting service for the American people.

     
  • rickaplan 9:12 am on May 23, 2014 Permalink  

    The Point of Being a Ninja Is to Avoid Attention 

    As my 8-year-old works to navigate the travails of making friends in second grade, one of his most unfortunate emerging strategies has been to do silly things to get his peers’ attention. He took that approach to a new level this week when he spent some quality time with the school principal after dumping chocolate milk out of the school bus window on a dare.

    I was reminded of that incident when, in another second-grade moment, CEA’s CEO Gary Shapiro dumped his chocolate milk out of the window with a silly and misguided missive in The Hill (“Broadcasters’ madness hurting the public,” May 21).

    Mr. Shapiro’s innovative thesis is that NAB “implor[es] the federal government for all sorts of favors while completely ignoring what the public wants and needs.” As Exhibit A, he suggests that broadcasters have “done all [they] can to delay implementation of voluntary spectrum auctions,” and that “the NAB has dragged its feet since the law passed and is seemingly discouraging broadcasters from participating in the auction.” Mr. Shaprio’s Exhibit B is broadcasters’ suit against Aereo, an Internet service that takes free, over-the-air broadcasts and converts and repackages them and sells them to consumers for a fee.

    At the outset, Mr. Shapiro’s high-level thesis is absurd. He conveniently ignores the incredible and life-saving coverage broadcasters recently provided in communities hit hard by severe weather events. I may be way off base here, but I think what the public “wants and needs” is information that helps them stay informed and stay safe. These are services radio and television broadcasters provide across the country on a regular basis, and they are unequaled.

    In fact, if CEA really cared about the public interest, it would lean on its wireless carrier and device members to take the simple step of unlocking the FM chips already in their phones. Then, when the wireless alert system is activated to say “check your local media,” a consumer could simply hit a button and have instant access to a local radio station that provides critical information.

    With respect to the voluntary broadcast spectrum incentive auction, Mr. Shapiro is completely out to lunch. His initial claim, that broadcasters are doing all they can to delay implementation of the auction, has zero basis in fact. Indeed, he does not, and cannot, point to a single instance where NAB has attempted to delay the auction.

    NAB has been constructively engaged in the auction process at least as much as any other entity, and has consistently provided concrete solutions for every problem we have identified. We have faithfully lived up to our public statements that we will do what we can to give the voluntary incentive auction the best chance for success. At the same time, it is essential that the auction remains faithful to Congress’s intent of keeping it voluntary, and NAB will work to ensure that broadcasters who want to remain on the air and continue serving their communities can do so without any repercussions.

    What Mr. Shapiro also overlooks is how NAB played a major facilitating role in what is likely to be a $10-$15 billion auction this year of AWS-3 spectrum. As the FCC scratched its head to figure out how to auction largely valueless unpaired spectrum to meet a Congressional mandate, NAB, along with the Department of Defense worked quickly to develop a sharing framework that enabled the FCC to pair that spectrum. NAB gained nothing from that endeavor. We simply recognized that there was a significant public good to be gained by sharing our spectrum with DoD, and found a way to make it happen. NAB has clearly done its part.

    Mr. Shapiro’s second auction claim, namely that NAB is “seemingly” discouraging broadcasters from participating in the auction borders on libel. How are we “seemingly” doing this? Are we “actually” doing it or “seemingly”? I don’t even really understand his point, beyond its goal of attempting to poison the well with an irresponsible suggestion.

    That comment is akin to us saying that because CEA vigorously opposed basic laws and regulations that made electronics accessible to disabled Americans, “CEA seemingly doesn’t care about Americans with disabilities.” Or that, “CEA’s members seemingly exploit children overseas for cheap labor.” Or that, because its members manufacture millions of shiny new objects that end up polluting our oceans and landfills every day, “CEA seemingly supports devastating the environment.”

    I’m not saying these things are true, but hey, it may seem like they are.

    The other nonsensical point in Mr. Shapiro’s piece is his attack on broadcasters for taking Aereo to court. His argument is that, because broadcasters are supposed to provide their content for free, broadcasters can’t and shouldn’t prevent someone else from taking that content and selling it for profit. That makes no sense and is wholly inconsistent with his own advocacy on behalf of his members. I am confident that his members would not support the notion that they should pour a ton of investment into new technologies only to have their competitors steal it and sell it as their own.

    As Mr. Shapiro knows all too well, there are very good reasons why the law provides copyright and patent protection. Those protections are not merely there to coddle multi-national electronics manufacturers, but to protect the innovations of America’s broadcasters as well.

    NAB has an unofficial internal rule that we only respond to Mr. Shapiro’s comments once for every three or four of his outbursts. This is because, like my second-grader, if you react to something an attention-seeker does, it encourages them to keep doing it. And perhaps this blog is the equivalent of laughing at my son’s milk-scapade. But given the importance of the issues discussed, and the forum in which Mr. Shapiro elected to express his views, we believe it makes sense to correct the record.

    As I explained to my second-grader, there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to get people’s attention. In my son’s case, getting attention from others is best done through his intelligence, thoughtfulness and appropriate sense of humor. In Mr. Shapiro’s case, it’s attempting to stick to the facts, and also taking a good, long look in the mirror before penning another piece in The Hill.

     
  • Zamir Ahmed 9:49 am on May 21, 2014 Permalink  

    Broadcasters Show Their Commitment to Public Safety 

    Much attention has been paid to KSFY (Sioux Falls, S.D.) anchor Nancy Naeve’s recent on-air rebuke of viewers who complained about the station breaking into regular programming to report on a tornado in the area on May 11. It has been heartening to see that a vast majority of those weighing in on the subject have supported broadcasters putting their public safety commitment above all else.

    The video of Naeve is just the latest example of broadcasters being credited for educating the public about staying safe when danger is approaching. Tupelo, Miss. residents have praised WTVA meteorologist Matt Laubhan for saving their lives during a tornado outbreak in April, after his on-air evacuation order to station personnel led many viewers to seek shelter.

    Radio and television broadcasters are serious about our roles as “first informers.” We do not take lightly a decision to preempt regular programming with live reporting regarding emergency situations. Broadcasting is very often the first place residents, and many first responders, turn to for information when danger is headed towards a community.

    However, the recent order from the FCC on the incentive auction could significantly interfere with television stations’ ability to keep their audiences informed.

    The incentive auction order proposes changes to the methodology and software that determines the coverage area of a broadcaster’s signal and the potential elimination of TV translators that could result in millions of viewers being left without access to the local television programming that they currently rely on. As NAB has made clear to the Commission, these proposed changes dramatically alter broadcasters’ coverage areas and the population they serve today. In more densely populated areas where TV stations are located in cities closer together, viewers may be able to receive signals from other nearby broadcasters. That’s an option that may not exist in lesser populated areas where TV stations are farther apart, such as in Sioux Falls. That could be the difference between life and death for some.

    The tornado that KSFY reported on that sparked the complaints touched down in Hospers, Iowa – about 70 miles from the station’s base of Sioux Falls. Under the FCC’s proposed signal contour methodology, those residents in the path of the storm might not have seen the lifesaving emergency information KSFY provided. In many areas of the country, particularly rural states, broadcast stations may be unable to reach significant portions of the populations due to terrain or geographic reasons. Translators allow broadcasters to fill in gaps in this coverage by transmitting their signal. Americans should not be put at risk to natural disasters because the translator service they used to watch broadcast TV was not protected by the FCC.

    NAB is supportive of a broadcast spectrum incentive auction that is truly voluntary. We believe in a future that is both broadcasting and broadband, a partnership that can be particularly beneficial when it comes to public safety. It appears our friends in the wireless industry believe so as well.

    CTIA-The Wireless Association recently tweeted an article about a cellphone alert awakening Charlotte, N.C. residents to an approaching tornado. The alert directed residents to tune into their local broadcast television station for more information. It is a perfect example of how broadband and broadcasting can work hand-in-hand to save lives.

    As the FCC proceeds with creating a framework for the incentive auction, it must refrain from instituting rules that jeopardize the pledge broadcasters’ have made to serve their communities during times of need. We take that pledge seriously. We hope the FCC does too.

     
  • NAB 3:51 pm on May 19, 2014 Permalink
    Tags: App, , Hybrid FM, Hybrid Radio, Mobile Phone, NextRadio, Radio App, TagStation   

    Broadcast Radio: Owning its Place in the Tech World 

    Guest Blogger Paul Brenner is senior vice president and chief technology officer of Emmis Communications Corp. Brenner works both within the broadcast industry and with pure-play IT development companies. He currently serves on NAB’s Digital Radio Committee.

     

    BrennerThe radio industry needs to “own” a unique technology. Google owns search. Wireless companies own the mobile subscriber. Facebook rules the social platform. Apple dominates the app and music store. Pandora is the go-to for user-programmed streaming. As an industry, radio by revenue and consumer consumption should by all accounts own something in the technology sector. While many can successfully debate that radio owns the local advertising market and in-car listening time, those are not technology driven growth opportunities. Those outside of radio, and a few naysayers inside radio, debate that radio has a place in the future at all.

     

     

    Radio broadcasters can make hybrid, interactive radio on smartphones the technology that consumers look to as the reinvention of local broadcast radio. NextRadio, the only hybrid FM app available, can be the ultimate hyper-local platform with mass market local radio stations using calls-to-action and thousands of local sellers to own mobile advertising and the growing mobile ad market. Consumers can benefit from enhanced content on the radio dial, efficiency of FM radio (more handset battery life, lower data bills) and most importantly, keep radio at their fingertips in times of emergency.

    So, in this changing media and technological landscape where the mercurial consumer bounces between seemingly endless apps and choices, what unique offering can radio provide? Hybrid radio is the term being used ubiquitously to describe a melding of one-way technology (like broadcast radio) with two-way technology (like mobile broadband). Traditional broadcast radio is the most efficient way to reach the mass market with entertainment and information. Two-way technology may be better at direct one-to-one engagement with the consumer, but is not the best solution to deliver mass-market content for technical and economic reasons. When we launched NextRadio for FM smartphones and connected cars, our creative intent was to visualize the value of FM radio as localism, calls-to-action and well programmed radio stations to translate the strongest relationship elements into a system that would automatically link to the two-way smartphone. “Hey listeners, call this number, text-to-win, attend our promo event, go to this website!” Simplicity is extremely difficult but if you look at what Google, Apple, Twitter and others “own,” they keep it simple, and I think we have achieved something similar with NextRadio.

    How NextRadio Works

     

    CHART_TagStation_HowItWorks
    Making Radio Cool

    People listen to local radio. The numbers show that. In a recent focus group performed by Coleman Insights, NextRadio on an HTC One Red smartphone was put in the hands of people of all ages and genders. Two reactions were common. “Wow, this is cool.” What?! Radio IS cool. In this world of Twitter, Snapchat and Angry Birds, “This is cool” is exactly what you need to hear from this generation. The second reaction was, “Huh, I didn’t know I could listen to FM radio outside my car.”  If you are a broadcaster you should be swallowing a big lump right about now. Usage curves of FM radio show morning drive and afternoon drive as the times people listen to radio in the car. If we want to sustain and grow the broadcast radio industry, we must make radio cool again and educate listeners on its availability outside the car.

    NextRadio launched with Sprint in August of 2013. One phone, the HTC One, was our soft launch and this was our opportunity to work out the prototypical system bugs. By Black Friday 2013, we had five more smartphones to launch and about the time people started unwrapping their Christmas gifts our install rates and listening became a hockey stick curve. NextRadio now has over 400,000 activated users and is growing daily. FM radio is preloaded on 15 Sprint, Boost and Virgin Mobile phones. Over 30 models will be FM-enabled and commercially available by the end of this year, and tablet development is in progress. What does this mean for incremental FM listening, assuming people would otherwise be listening to streaming music on their smartphone? The first quarter of 2014 saw month-over-month listening grow an average of 56 percent. And, those smartphone listeners are listening primarily between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., outside of their car!

    Looking at the current forecasts for FM-enabled smartphone sales of 3-5 million units in Q2 2014, we expect by mid-year 2014 to have at least 5 million FM-enabled smartphones in the hands of consumers and continuing to grow. Broadcasters need to care a lot about this evolution. Why? Because the first time that consumer launches NextRadio and hears local FM radio, they will make a choice instantly to either continue using FM radio on their smartphone or switch to an internet-friendly, visual alternative. Broadcasters can use a tool like TagStation to create an experience that radio can own. This is how the radio industry looks to the future: by blending what we are great at with what the consumer expects in today’s tech heavy world.

    Lastly, but most importantly, is the public service aspect of FM in smartphones. My parents live in rural southern Indiana. Recently, tornadoes and 120 mph winds hit their town. The house of my 75+ year old parents was damaged and they were without power for three days. Mom had switched to a smartphone some time ago to be part of the texting and picture sharing world of grandchildren. However, in the event of the storm and soon after, I could not reach her on the phone. As day two and three wore on, my mom and dad needed help so my sister drove out to them. My parents had naturally turned to radio and TV for help, yet neither was available. Yes, I had told my mom to get a Sprint phone, but she is a Verizon customer. Maybe I can change that based on this emergency. The moral of the story is: radio is a lifeline to people in emergencies to give them comfort and much needed information. FM-enabled smartphones can be one way of helping people in times of need, especially when other resources are not available.

    Radio can truly own something unique with NextRadio. Consumers will benefit from interactive FM-enabled smartphones, and in an emergency when people need a lifeline for information, the FM radio will be the distribution platform most likely to be there for them. Make your radio stations interactive for NextRadio, promote the value to your listeners, and in the words of David Pogue at the 2014 NAB Show, stand on the mountain top and tell everyone about NextRadio.

     
  • rickaplan 1:20 pm on April 29, 2014 Permalink
    Tags: , ,   

    I Suppose It’s Worth A Try (When You Are On a Roll…) 

    There is overstating and then there is overstating.

    Last week, NAB proposed to the FCC commissioners some changes to the 600 MHz band plan included in the draft incentive auction order currently under review at the Commission. Specifically, NAB asked the FCC to shelve its planned 6-to-11 megahertz duplex gap that would be shared between wireless and unlicensed services, and instead adopt NAB’s “Plan B” and use a flat 10 or 11 megahertz duplex gap, of which 4 or 5 megahertz would be reserved exclusively for wireless microphones. NAB believes this is both fair and essential, as licensed wireless microphone users will be foregoing the current two exclusive 6 megahertz channels in favor of only 4 or 5 megahertz vital to providing breaking news coverage in local communities throughout the country.

    In response, New America Foundation’s Michael Calabrese blasted NAB’s proposal, saying that it “would be a death sentence for unlicensed broadband and innovation post-auction.”

    That statement almost made me feel badly. Were we essentially recommending an end to unlicensed innovation as we know it? Would our proposal lead to no more WiFi, garage door openers or cordless phones? Are we proposing to kill off baby monitors, and putting infants at risk across the nation? What have we become?

    After some serious soul-searching, my grandmother’s famous chicken soup (good for the soul) and a long hard look in the mirror, I looked to the facts to see if Mr. Calabrese was really on to something.

    Fact #1: In March, the FCC massively expanded the spectrum designated for unlicensed services by allocating more than 100 megahertz for that purpose in the 5 GHz band.

    Fact #2: Just last week, the FCC launched a proceeding to free up as much as 150 megahertz more spectrum for unlicensed services, this time at 3.5 GHz.

    Fact #3: In the draft incentive auction order, the proposal for the 600 MHz band is likely to render the duplex gap unusable for unlicensed services. It envisions scenarios where the duplex gap would be anywhere between 6 and 11 megahertz. Any plan allocating less than 11 or 12 megahertz between LTE uplink and downlink will, according to the unlicensed community, render that spectrum far less valuable.

    Fact #4: The FCC’s draft incentive auction order opens up channel 37 and a new guard band that will give unlicensed users brand new nationwide bands, including, for the first time, spectrum in major markets such as New York and Los Angeles.

    Fact #5: Under the draft incentive auction order, not only do wireless microphones lose well over half of their shared spectrum, but licensed wireless mic operators lose all 12 megahertz that are designated for exclusive use. Thus, if approved, wireless microphones will have gone from more than 60 megahertz of exclusive spectrum to zero in just five years. If there is any kind of “death sentence” in the draft order, it’s clearly just for wireless microphones.

    Unlicensed spectrum advocates – primarily Google and Microsoft – are on a serious roll in the spectrum department. In proceeding after proceeding, they keep racking up more free spectrum. And I completely subscribe to the theory of when you are on a roll, you should keep shooting. Mr. Calabrese’s play is really no more than a “heat check” for the spectrum world and Mr. Calabrese, along with Google and Microsoft, is probably feeling a lot like the Golden State Warriors’ Steph Curry right now.

    Thirty-foot jump shots aside, it is clear that absolutely no innovation is lost under NAB’s “Plan B.” In fact, the unlicensed community will exit 2014 having earned massive allocations of spectrum, including new nationwide spectrum blocks in the 600 MHz band. Thus, NAB’s proposal does nothing to drive a stake through the beating heart of unlicensed broadband innovation.

    On the other hand, it is hard to overstate the harm the current draft order would do to wireless microphones and the essential public service they help deliver. These devices – an innovation themselves, for what it’s worth – help broadcasters on a daily basis cover breaking news and weather in local cities and towns across the nation. When the president followed developments in the Boston bombing tragedy, he watched multiple local Boston broadcast TV stations to get well-informed, up-to-date, on-scene reporting. In order for that to happen, broadcasters relied on wireless microphones to deliver the news as it was breaking.

    Some unlicensed spectrum advocates believe the TV white spaces database to be some kind of panacea. It is not. FCC rules require that devices check the database only once every 24 hours. Thus, broadcasters can only be sure to be free from interference from unlicensed devices sharing their wireless microphone channels if the world is kind enough to inform them of breaking news a day in advance. And even if the FCC finally amends its rules to permit more frequent checking – which it should have done at the outset – in times of crisis wireless networks often go down, rendering the database useless. That is exactly what happened in Boston following last year’s horrific bombing.

    In a more temperate moment, Mr. Calabrese also noted that his coalition “strongly supports the NAB’s position that the FCC should continue to reserve two vacant broadcast channels for priority use by licensed wireless microphones.” He states that “[t]hese channels could be designated post-auction in each market and therefore would not in any way reduce the Commission’s flexibility during the auction.”

    To be clear, NAB’s “Plan A” that Mr. Calabrese refers to involves retaining today’s two exclusive channels pre- and not post-auction. This is because a post-auction reservation means essentially nothing in all of the major markets. In most of the top 100 markets, following the auction there will be no spectrum whatsoever available for reservation. Repacking and reallocation will take care of that.

    Now I understand the eagerness of many companies – especially major tech companies and wireless carriers – to feed off of the broadcaster carcass in the upper 600 MHz band. The Chicken Little approach, however, won’t get it done. Facts will. And the fact is that wireless microphones need some small exclusive home in their 600 MHz band in order for newsgatherers to keep providing the kind of on-scene up-to-date information for their viewers. There is a place for nearly everyone in the incentive auction, and both NAB’s Plan A and B for wireless microphones reflects the best and most appropriate balance.

     
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