News Ticker

NAB proposes compromise on duplex gap

By Nfrastructure CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The National Association of Broadcasters, one of the biggest critics of Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal to repack some TV stations in the duplex gap, has decided to steer a middle course.

But the NAB’s proposal still leaves some stations in the duplex gap in at least six markets.

There has been very little support, and practically none from broadcasters, for putting a station in the duplex gap because it would displace spectrum for wireless mics used for local news gathering and unlicensed uses.

Controversy over the proposal exploded just prior to last week’s FCC meeting, forcing Wheeler to reschedule the item on incentive auction procedures until the Aug. 6 meeting.

Figuring that Wheeler was determined to keep the duplex option open, the NAB Tuesday offered the FCC a compromise that “meets all of the commission’s goals.”

“While NAB remains opposed to the proposed impairments, we believe strongly that, if the commission insists on impairing certain markets, there is a far better solution that what is currently being considered,” Rick Kaplan, NAB’s general counsel and executive vice president of regulatory affairs wrote in a letter to the FCC.

NAB is proposing that the FCC be permitted to impair up to six markets, the number of markets cited by Wheeler in his defense of the duplex gap option, with only one TV station in each market. No more than one of those impaired markets should be among the top 25, the NAB suggested.

Second, the NAB proposed that once the clearing target in a market is established, the FCC may not add any new TV impairments in the wireless bands (duplex gap, downlink or uplink.) If a station elects to drop out of the auction and can’t be repacked in the broadcast portion of the band, the FCC should buy the station at its last accepted price.

“Much like the commission’s dynamic reserve pricing proposal, mechanisms designed to forgo paying broadcast volunteers are not worth reducing the amount of clean, unimpaired spectrum available and damaging wireless microphone and unlicensed services for the American public,” Kaplan wrote. “The FCC has produced no data to suggest that the success of the auction hinges on its ability to impair the duplex gap. However, NAB is willing to take commission staff at its word, and to limit impairment only to what is stated and is absolutely necessary,”

While the sparring over the duplex gap has delayed consideration of a couple of auction procedures, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has shown no signs of deviating from his auction time line. “I remain committed to achieving our goal of beginning the auction in the first quarter of 2016,” he wrote in a July 16 blog post.

The March 29, 2016 date was revealed in the description of the auction bidding procedures, one of the two items the Federal Communications Commissions postponed last Thursday and rescheduled for its next meeting August 6.

“If the incentive auction does in fact go forward as set out in this document in March of next year, the preliminary filings by broadcasters and wireless companies expressing intent to participate in the auction could be due late this year or very early next year, though obviously we don’t know those dates yet,” Oxenford wrote.