NAB to FCC: Don't Take Our BAS

Broadcast Group Says it Could Compromise Already Crowded Spectrum for ENG

The National Association of Broadcasters has told the FCC that a proposal to take Broadcast Auxiliary Service (BAS) spectrum for auctioning for mobile wireless could compromise broadcasters' ability to deliver crucial local news and information, like coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing.

Broadcasters use that spectrum for electronic newsgatherers (ENG) including helicopter shots, and for studio-to-transmitter links that deliver a signal to rural and remote areas.

In a filing, NAB took issue with a wireless industry proposal to repurpose 15 Mhz of that BAS spectrum as amount required to be identified in incentive auction legislation

NAB said there is 25 Mhz elsewhere that can be used, pointing out that the BAS allocation was already reduced by almost 30%, from 120 to 85 MHz in the digital transition (to make room for Sprint-Nextel in the lower BAS band).

The BAS band is currently 2025-2010. The CTIA proposal would take 15% off the top, as it were (2095-2010). NAB says that has led to a crowded band already, citing the Boston Marathon coverage as an example of the strains on the current allocation and getting in a shot at wireless nets in the same sentence.

"Local and national news crews used the entirety of the BAS spectrum to transmit live, up-to-the-minute updates from the scene, while helicopters overhead provided live video seen by millions of viewers," NAB wrote. "That video was used not just in local newscasts, but also on national broadcast news programs and cable news channels. In fact, the band became so congested that broadcasters were forced to use the much less reliable and less efficient wireless networks for additional news traffic no longer able to be served in the BAS band."

NAB said that reduction in the band "(1) ignores the value and existing congestion of the BAS band; (2) would, for the first time since completion of the National Broadband Plan, eliminate one active use in favor – and favoring – another; and (3) the U.S. wireless industry already has vast and vastly unused and likely underutilized spectrum resources."

NAB advised to proceed with its plan to acclocate the 25 Mhz between 1755 and 1780 and leave BAS alone. "CTIA’s gold-rush mentality to stockpile spectrum has left its proposal and corresponding analysis lacking any perspective on the value of the current use of the 2095-2110 MHz band to the American public," it said.

CTIA asked the FCC to consider whether broadcasters needed 12 Mhz for each BAS channel, and points to the rise of alternatives like SKype and LET and WiFi for backhaul of ENG signals from remote sites. "While each of these new technology alternatives may not fully replace the existing capabilities for broadcasters in the 2025-2110 MHz band, CTIA believes that the Commission should independently review whether these new options mitigate the overall demand for all 85 megahertz for BAS," CTIA said in its comments.

NAB also renewed its call for an FCC investigation into how wireless companies are, or aren't, using the spectrum they always have. Various members of Congress have also called for a thorough spectrum inventory. "If the industry continues to demand more spectrum, especially to the detriment of other industries, the FCC must determine to what degree the wireless industry is making good and full use of the spectrum it controls today," NAB said, adding that the FCC currently has no data on which to assess that.

NAB argued that wireless companies have lots of spectrum and there is no "inflection point" of spectrum shortage. Given the FCC's recent moves to open up more spectrum, and secondary market transactions, "if anything, any initial fears about a spectrum shortage should have rationally abated, not accelerated over the last few years," according to NAB.