A coalition of low-power television broadcasters known as the Coalition for Free TV and Broadband is advocating a plan that would enable their spectrum to be used for a broadband overlay wireless network, while also continuing to support free over-the-air niche programming.

Low-power TV broadcasters operate in spectrum bands that the FCC is eyeing for a proposed voluntary incentive auction.  Under the FCC’s proposal, broadcasters who voluntarily relinquish spectrum would share in the proceeds of a spectrum auction. The spectrum would be auctioned to cellular operators, who would re-purpose it for mobile broadband.

The Coalition for Free TV and Broadband says its plan would generate more money for the U.S. Treasury than would be raised in an incentive auction. Under the coalition’s plan the treasury would receive 5% of revenues earned from the broadband overlay network.

Low-power TV broadcasters rely on a single high tower for coverage within a radius of about 50 miles. The broadcasters argue that their infrastructure could evolve over time to support better QoS by using more antennas—but still considerably fewer antennas than cellular operators would need to cover the same area. This new distributed network operating in the LPTV spectrum band could be shared with mobile operators to more efficiently use the spectrum, the LPTV broadcasters say.

A voluntary spectrum auction is expected to generate one-time revenues of around $25 billion for federal coffers. In comparison, the LPTV broadcasters say their plan could generate $80 billion for the government by 2023 and $125 billion through 2026. That estimate comes from a third-party economic study conducted for the Coalition for Free TV and Broadband, a spokesman for the coalition told Telecompetitor.

“A broadcast overlay serves multiple objectives,” said Mark Aitken, vice president of advanced technology for Sinclair Broadcast Group, in a preview announcement about the initiative. Objectives include providing wireless high data-rate capacity, maximizing the efficient use of broadband spectrum, offering the public new wireless service choices, and creating an entirely brand-new revenue stream for the U.S. Treasury, he said.

“Americans expect and deserve the most advanced mobile services in the world,” said Irwin Podhaiser, chairman of the Coalition for Free TV and Broadband, in a subsequent announcement.  “But they should not be expected to give up free over-the-air television provided by hundreds of full-power broadcast stations and thousands of community low-power broadcast stations that would be needlessly sacrificed for the sake of incentive auctions.”

LPTV broadcasters include minority, foreign language, and religious broadcasters. The Coalition for Free TV and Broadband also includes television equipment manufacturers, production companies and “concerned citizens.”

The coalition’s plan, which would require congressional approval, was presented to Congress last week. The voluntary spectrum auction also would require congressional approval.

Congress now has a clear choice said Jim West, a Coalition for Free TV and Broadband member and president of Legacy TV. “They can choose a plan that will further entrench wireless monopolies, destroy thousands of jobs and television stations, [and] decrease competition,” he said. “Or they can choose a plan that will eventually raise significantly more money, increase competition and choices for the American public, create jobs and . . . continue to offer entertainment, news and information to the public through thousands of television stations.”

A spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, which represents the nation’s largest television broadcasters, told Multichannel News that the LPTV plan “offers interesting ideas worth reviewing.”  He added though, that the NAB does not object to voluntary incentive auctions as long as they do not harm broadcasters that choose to stay in business.




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