Intel's Pitsch's Pitch: Repacking Should Be Mandatory

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Intel wants broadcasters to have the option of participating in voluntary incentive auctions of their reclaimed spectrum, but says the Federal Communications Commission should make repacking the stations that remain mandatory to prevent broadcasters from holding up the process or jacking up the price.

Broadcasters have argued that repacking can diminish their service and dislocate their viewers, so a forced move, or what some broadcasters have likened to a death march, will likely be a tough sell in those quarters.

Calling 120 MHz from broadcasters a prime candidate, Peter Pitsch, associate general counsel for the chip maker, says the FCC should proceed with auctions ASAP, rather than waiting for the kind of in-depth spectrum inventory broadcasters have been calling for as a precedent to a band-reconfiguring operation. That is according to prepared testimony for an April 12 spectrum hearing in the House Communications Subcommittee.

The FCC wants to free up up to 120 MHz from broadcasters as part of its goal of getting 500 MHz for mobile broadband by the end of the decade.

Pitsch urges the Congress to pass incentive auction legislation this year, which would give the FCC the authority to compensate broadcasters for moving. Broadcasters have said they are not against an auction or diametrically opposed to repacking so long as both are voluntary, the latter which will be a tough order to fill for the FCC, which needs to free up larger blocks of contiguous spectrum--20 MHz vs. broadcasters current 6 MHz -- nationwide for mobile broadband.

Intel is part of a coalition of computer and wireless companies including Alcatel Lucent, Apple, Cisco, Ericsson, Nokia, Qualcomm and Research in Motion that are pushing for legislation.

Pitsch's pitch boiled down to:

1."The U.S. is facing a severe mobile broadband spectrum shortfall."
2. "Voluntary incentive auctions would help address this spectrum shortfall."
3. "Incentive auctions can be prudently implemented on broadcasting spectrum now."

But the prudent implementation was where the sting in the tail for broadcasters resided.

"[I]t is critical to note that the repacking process should not be made voluntary," said Pitsch. "The FCC already has authority to mandate that a particular broadcaster move channels, e.g. from channel 39 to channel 29. This repacking authority is necessary in order for the FCC to clear and then auction large contiguous blocks of spectrum (as opposed to smaller 'Swiss cheese' blocks) which are most efficient for mobile broadband use. Making repacking voluntary would give many broadcasters hold-out power. In that case clearing large contiguous bands would require that these broadcasters agree on how to exercise their hold-out power. Even if they do agree, they would capture virtually all of the auction revenues raised by reallocating spectrum from TV broadcast to mobile broadband use -- leaving little, if any, money for the U.S. Treasury."

Rather than blocks or slices of cheese, at least one broadcaster, Sinclair, has argued that the FCC should take a more holistic approach -- Cheez-Whiz -- to rethinking spectrum, a process in which broadcasters could be a partner in handling broadband video traffic, likely one of the biggest drains on spectrum.

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