VIDEO INTERVIEW: The enormous $44.9 billion raised by the AWS-3 spectrum auction has made broadcasters more eager to participate in the sale of their 600MHz frequencies, said Gordon Smith, president and chief executive of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), a lobby group for US radio and TV broadcasters.
“If you own a TV studio worth £5 million and someone offers $50 million, then you become interested,” he told Mobile World Live.
NAB members, which typically are listed companies, were initially sceptical about selling their spectrum as they have a good business, said Smith. The AWS-3 auction, however, has forced a rethink. “They have to look at this now,” he said.
The NAB chief suspects a “good number” of broadcasters will now participate in the so-called “incentive auction”, slated for early next year, which involves a reverse auction (where sellers, rather than bidders, set prices through undercutting each other). “How many will ultimately sell remains to be seen,” added Smith.
NAB and the FCC have crossed swords over 600MHz auction rules. In August 2014, NAB filed a lawsuit against the US telecoms regulator, which included criticism of the regulator’s decision to change the methodology used to predict local television coverage areas and population served.
“When Congress passed legislation to authorise the auction in the first place, the central predicate was that it be voluntary,” explained Smith. “And on the other side of the auction, for broadcasters who chose to remain in business, [they would not] suffer interference and would cover the same population as before. The modelling that FCC came up with made it clear they were not doing that, and were not living up to Congressional intent.”
Smith is keen for the matter to be resolved swiftly so the auction can go ahead, and said the legal process was being done on an “expedited basis”.
Low-band airwaves, such as 600MHz spectrum, are of course coveted by the mobile industry. They provide wider coverage than higher frequencies, as well as deeper in-building penetration. Even so, Smith stressed that regulators need to safeguard spectrum for the broadcasters.
“Mobile and broadband serve a certain segment of our telecommunications needs, but they don’t serve it all,” he said. “There is no substitute for broadcasting when it comes to video, or live and large events. Mobile can never accomplish that. Neither does mobile purport to serve the civic needs in the way broadcasting does, such as news, weather and sports coverage.”
Watch the whole interview here.