Wheeler Urges Broadcasters To See It His Way
Under fire from broadcasters for adopting stricter enforcement of the local ownership limits, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said at the NAB Show on Tuesday that the agency is prepared to help the industry thrive in the “challenging” new media environment.
“We’re living in really challenging times,” Wheeler said during a standing-room-only session at the NAB Show in Las Vegas. “Those times call for us to say, ‘How can we seize the opportunity created by change, rather than how do I build bulwarks against change.’ ”
He said broadcasters could raise capital for such new services by selling at least part of their existing spectrum back during the agency’s incentive auction. “Spectrum sharing will allow you to maintain your existing business while taking home an auction check,” he said. “It sounds like a pretty good deal to me.”
Wheeler also offered to help support the development and implementation of the OFDM-based next generation broadcast TV standard, which is known as ATSC 3.0. “The FCC will be ready and responsive when the standard is completed,” the chairman said.
Wheeler also said that he would help with transitioning the country to the new standard, which is incompatible with existing TV sets. “It’s going to be a long and heavy lift,” Wheeler said. “We should not shrink from it, nor underestimate its magnitude.”
Wheeler also defended the FCC’s March 31 vote to crack down on joint sales agreements, insisting that the agency’s action had been solely aimed at fulfilling the FCC’s mandate to promote competition, diversity and localism.
“Where sidecar deals serve the public interest by advancing the goals established by Congress, they are appropriate,” he said. “When entanglements between separately owned stations serve as end runs around our local television rules, however, it’s appropriate to push the stop button.”
Wheeler said that the March 31 FCC decision to bar a market’s top four TV stations from jointly negotiating retrans deals was driven by what he said was the congressional intent that the deals be conducted “one at a time.”
Broadcasters are also concerned that pending FCC proposals to eliminate the syndicated exclusivity, network nonduplication and sports blackout rules will also undermine a broadcaster’s local exclusivity.
But Wheeler didn’t spell out exactly what the agency’s planned to do about those regulations. “I think it’s worthwhile to look at that,” he said.
Wheeler also questioned NAB’s insistence on using OET-69, instead of an FCC-backed model that includes more up-to-date data, for the incentive auction’s repacking plan. “That’s a real head-scratcher for me,” Wheeler said.