National Religious Broadcasters: Don't Reallocate Broadband Spectrum To Wireless
Group Believes Reassignment Might Be Illegal
John Eggerton -- Multichannel News, 12/22/2009 7 00 AM

Religious broadcasters have asked the Federal Communications Commission not to reallocate any broadcast spectrum for wireless, saying it will disproportionately impact Christian TV broadcasters.

Responding to an FCC request for input on how the public's welfare would be impacted were the commission to "diminish" over-the-air TV coverage in order to recover spectrum, the National Religious Broadcasters told the agency Monday that it thinks that spectrum reassignment might be illegal.

"NRB presumes that the term 'public welfare,' includes such things as compliance by the FCC. with existing legal and constitutional standards," said the group in its filing, "and believes that violation of those standards would be contrary to 'public welfare.'"

Pointing to the writings of FCC Distinguished Scholar in Residence Stuart Benjamin that spectrum could be reallocated from "lower value" uses like broadcasting to "higher value" uses, NRB says it is afraid it could be relegated to the lower of that low due to its noncommercial model.

[O]ur Christian television broadcasters rely on current 'must carry' regulations to gain optimal coverage, and do not, as a general rule, enter into retransmission agreements," NRB pointed out. "As a result, there is no standard market index for the economic "value" of Christian television programming from a macro-broadcasting viewpoint. Does that mean, therefore, that Christian stations would be more susceptible to being viewed as being of lower 'value,' and therefore more likely to lose spectrum?"

NRB argued the fact that a station can support itself through public donations should, in fact, argue for its value to the public, but it points to a lack of clarity in the FCC's notice regarding terms like "value" and "benefit."

NRB also maintained that if spectrum reclamation were to significantly impact religious broadcasters, it could well violate the Religoius Freedom Restoration Act, which applies a compelling interest/least restrictive means test for any government action regarding exercise of religious expression.

NRB also said it wasn't buying the premise of one of the FCCs' questions in the comment request, which was that consumers are migrating away from mass-market "appointment TV." NRB cited one station that aid its viewers' average age was 67, that they were not necessarily "caught up in the latest technology," and that "watching chronological television is perfectly fine with them."

NRB added that it sees no upside in channel sharing that will reduce stations' flexibility to combine standard and HD offerings and has no interest in geographic co-location if it means losing viewers.

"We request that the FCC refrain from any form of television spectrum reallocation as it may well impair, or substantially burden Christian television broadcasters," NRB concluded Further. "We recommend that the Commission investigate other means by which broadband can be served without sacrificing broadcast spectrum."

The FCC has not yet proposed any spectrum reclamation, but the broadband advisor has been talking with broadcasters and others about possible scenarios that would preserve broadcasting in some form, while freeing up spectrum for wireless broadband.

The FCC avers it will need more bandwidth to deliver a host of applications, including entertainment, government services, health care, energy management and emergency response, among others.