Donovan: FCC Spectrum Reclamation Proposal Could Also Hurt Cable Operators

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Broadcasters' top spectrum lobbyist says the Federal Communication Commission's broadcast spectrum reclamation proposal could pose problems for cable operators as well.

David Donovan, who heads the Association for Maximum Service Television, told an American Cable Association audience Tuesday in Washington that reclaiming 120 MHz of spectrum from broadcasters, as the FCC is proposing, would mean another big move of channels.

He said that if the FCC tries to reduce the current 2-15 allotment for broadcasters to 2-30, close to 700 stations will have to be moved, reducing service areas or at least service areas without interference.

For smaller operators, he said, that may mean a tougher time getting that signal to the cable headend or receive site.

Donovan warned not to mistake problems with network architecture and the much-vaunted spectrum crunch. He said some of the problems have been distance separations and tower issues, rather than a lack of spectrum. Acknowledging the growing appetite for online video, Donovan said that broadcasting's point-to-point architecture might be a way to handle that.

Something that is already causing problems for broadcasters and cable operators is retransmission-consent negotiations, though broadcasters argue it is just a muscular marketplace at work.

Donovan was something of a Daniel in the lion's den surrounded by small and midsized cable operators who liken retrans system to "extortion." He as much as acknowledged that he was taking a position in opposition to many in the room, saying he might need his three hockey-playing sons to help get him to his car safely after the panel.

Cable operators say the competitive landscape has changed, the process is broken and skewed toward broadcasters via must-carry on must-buy tiers, syndicated exclusivity and network nonduplication rules.

Donovan, who lobbied for retrans back in the mid-1980s countered that cable had the benefit of pole attachment rates and the franchise system on the other side of the equation. He also said that the market hasn't changed that much, particularly Adam Smith's theories about it being the best arbiter.

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