NBC Affils Concerned About Simultaneous Spectrum Auction

Tell FCC Staffers They Could Be Working Without a Net with Broadcasters' Fate at Stake

NBC's TV station affiliates are concerned about the FCC's plans to hold reverse and forward spectrum incentive auctions at the same time.

The FCC has sought comment on that suggestion, but said in its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that it might make more sense to hold the reverse auction, in which broadcasters bid to see who will give up their spectrum to the FCC for the lowest price, and the forward auction -- that spectrum goes to the highest bidder -- at the same time.

In meetings with FCC officials Tuesday, according to FCC documents, members of the NBC Television Affiliates board, led by president/chairman Jordan Wertlieb of Hearst and Ralph Oakley, vice chairman of the affiliates group and president of Quincy Newspapers, said they were concerned that if the FCC does conduct simultaneous auctions, "there will be no safety net available in the event that the predictive engineering models have miscalculated the amount of spectrum actually necessary to repack the remaining television stations" consisted with the statutory mandate to preserve coverage areas and populations. They told the FCC officials that such preservation must be in fact, not simply in theory.

They also called for a fair, transparent and "technically sound" auction process, all of which the FCC has pledged to do.

Broadcasters have held numerous webinars with FCC officials on the subject, and are looking for more info this Friday (Oct. 26), when the FCC holds its first incentive auction workshop.

The FCC is seeking comment on its proposed framework for the auctions, whose final rules it plans to vote on sometime mid-year 2013.

While they were there, the affiliates also talked about what they said were their other issues of greatest concern. Those were that the retransmission consent regime is working and that government intrusion would unfairly benefit pay TV operators, and that the FCC needs to relax media ownership rules.

The FCC is not expected to take action anytime soon on clarifying good faith negotiations or possibly waiving exclusivity and nonduplication rules during retrans impasses, both of which it teed up in an open rulemaking proposal well over a year ago. The affiliates called those rules a safety viable for the public.

On media ownership, they said relaxing and modernizing the rules was necessary to ensure broadcasters remain a "strong and valued source of local journalism."

They also put in a pitch for the public benefit of shared services and joint sales agreements, which the FCC has signaled it might consider counting toward local ownership limits.

"Restricting such arrangements would not increase diversity or localism, but would have the opposite effect by eliminating efficiencies that promote stronger public service."