NAB: FCC's National Broadband Plan Could Shut Down 210 TV Stations for Good

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Gordon Smith

But the Consumer Electronics Association and CTIA-The Wireless Association blast the NAB study, with a CTIA exec calling it "scare tactics."

At least 210 local TV stations could go off the air permanently under the FCC's National Broadband Plan, the National Association of Broadcasters charged Monday. 

The Broadband Plan -- which proposes voluntary incentive auctions through which broadcasters could opt for channel-sharing as part of an effort to avert a "spectrum crisis" -- could also force 40% of full-power,  local TV stations to surrender their current TV channel assignment, the NAB said.

Executives from the Consumer Electronics Association and CTIA-The Wireless Association rejected the NAB's analysis, however, arguing that the plan is a win-win. The NAB was using "scare tactics," one CTIA exec argued. 

According to the NAB's analysis, 672 of the country's 1,735 full-power TV stations must be cleared from channels 31-51 to accommodate the FCC's goal of reclaiming an additional 120 MHz of spectrum from broadcasters.

"NAB endorses truly voluntary spectrum auctions. Our concern is that the FCC plan will morph into involuntary, because it is impossible for the FCC to meet spectrum reclamation goals without this becoming a government mandate," NAB president Gordon Smith said in a statement.

At the NAB Show in Las Vegas in April, Smith asserted that NAB was "in full battle mode to protect broadcasters from being forced to give up spectrum involuntarily."

NAB's analysis of the FCC proposal suggests that top 10 TV markets would be "dramatically impacted" by the FCC proposal, with 73 stations in the largest 10 markets going off the air. It forecasts that service disruptions would occur at more than 800 TV stations in large to small markets.

According to the analysis, Americans living in cities along the Canadian border would bear "extra burdens because of international treaty obligations" and that all Detroit TV stations could "go dark." It suggested that border cities that could face "severe disruptions and loss of service" include Buffalo, Seattle, Syracuse, Cleveland, Spokane, Rochester and Watertown, N.Y., and Flint, Mich.

In response, Consumer Electronics Association senior vp government affairs Michael Petricone disputed the NAB analysis in a statement, saying it  "sets up and knocks down a purely fictional straw man."

"The study presumes an unrealistic scenario in which every single existing TV station continues to operate over-the-air. However in the event of incentive spectrum auctions, it is highly likely numerous stations will capitalize on their spectrum assets by exiting the business or sharing resources," Petricone said.

"Our nation faces a crisis as demand for wireless spectrum will soon outstrip supply," he added. "Meanwhile, the number of Americans relying purely on over-the-air TV is less than 10 percent, according to both CEA and Nielsen market research. Incentive auctions would be a financial windfall for broadcasters, free up the spectrum necessary for the next generation of American innovation to move forward and bring in $33 billion to the U.S. Treasury."

CTIA vp Chris Guttman-McCabe said in a statement Monday: "Contrary to the scare tactics that NAB is presenting to consumers and policymakers, reallocating underutilized spectrum will not remove free over-the-air broadcast television. ... NAB's study confirms that even under their analysis, spectrum can be moved voluntarily to its highest and best use, billions can be raised for the United States Treasury and free over-the-air broadcast services continue.

"Since spectrum is a finite resource, it is vital that the U.S. government ensures the highest and best of use," he added. "Economists estimate that for every dollar invested in mobile Internet, it will create an additional $7-10 for the GDP. This is in addition to the tens of billions of dollars that will be raised at auction. Our members want to help boost our country's economy, but they must have access to more spectrum. This can, and should be a win-win-win." 

NAB urged the FCC on Monday to make public its own analysis of the plan's potential impact on viewers of free and local television.