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Low Power Broadcasters Highlight Diversity in Call for Cable Carriage; Lawmakers Praise Local Focus

WASHINGTON, February 24, 2009 – As Congress examines renewing legislation that mandates satellite carriage of over-the-air broadcasts, owners of low power television stations say record levels of cable and satellite subscribership necessitate their inclusion in any retransmission consent regime to promote public safety, ensure a supply of local programming and promote ownership diversity.

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WASHINGTON, February 24, 2009 – As Congress examines renewing legislation that mandates satellite carriage of over-the-air broadcasts, owners of low power television stations say record levels of cable and satellite subscribership necessitate their inclusion in any retransmission consent regime to promote public safety, ensure a supply of local programming and promote ownership diversity.

Eighty-five percent of Americans recieve television programming by way of cable or satellite, Community Broadcasters Association president Kyle Reeves told President Obama in a letter sent to the White House last weekend. Many young people have never seen a pair of rabbit ears, Reeves wrote. Instead, they increasingly choose to access video programming over broadband, cable, or satellite connections.

Reeves said this change means public interest groups that fought against allowing one entity to own multiple television stations in a market picked the wrong battle.”The true issue that impacts the diversity of ideas available to the public…is access to distribution systems,” he said.

Local programming and low power television were both matters of great concern to some members of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet at a Tuesday hearing on the Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act. Reps. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Charles Marancon, D-La., both discussed the importance of local television in communicating with the public during natural disasters and chided satellite providers for not providing enough local programming to their districts.

Marancon was particularly critical of satellite television executives for their actions in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. While a low power station owner had to fashion a makeshift antenna to broadcast information on whether or not it was safe for residents to come home, satellite providers advertised packages carrying “all stations” – but not low power.

Blackburn worried that the method by which satellite providers choose which local stations to carry – a system based on Nielsen Designated Market Areas (DMAs) – often leaves viewers watching stations based in other cities. Those stations don’t always carry accurate emergency information, such as  tornado warnings, Blackburn said.

And Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., once a broadcast station owner himself, said he strongly supported the local mission of low power stations. Walden said the fate of the stations — which are largely denied cable and satellite carriage — is a topic important enough to warrant its own hearing.

Satellite providers haven’t lived up to promises to bring more local programming to all 210 DMAs, an angry Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., pointed out. As he flipped through documents DirecTV provided to the Federal Communications Commission during its purchase by News Corporation, Stupak reminded DirecTV vice president Bob Gabrielli of his  company’s promise to deliver all four local television stations to his district. “None [of these promises] seem to get fulfilled,” he observed.

When Gabrielli tried to deflect blame onto News Corporation, Stupak reacted angrily: “You promised [full coverage] by the end of 2008 — why didn’t you do it?”

Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., wondered about how much “local” programming was actually aired on local stations. DISH Network president Charles Ergan said the percentage was around 30 percent while Gabrielli said it was probably half that. Both blamed the practice of “rebroadcasting” content produced for television networks for the dearth of true local programming.

Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn suggested that any reauthorization bill should give cable and satellite television providers  a single, “unified regulatory structure” for obtaining permission to carry  television programming  into local markets. Nor should they pay different copyright royalty rates, she said. And Internet video services could be included in the unified system without a problem, Sohn added.

And while satellite executives professed eagerness to drop full power stations that don’t produce local content, the word “local” could have a meaningless definition if the FCC rules governing low power stations are extended to full power stations, CBA counsel Peter Tannenwald warned.

The FCC defines “local” content as being created within a station’s broadcast service area. Tannenwald pointed out that in some states, a live interview of the governor filmed at the state capital would not qualify as local programming. The FCC would have to “fix” the definition in a manner “contrary to market forces,” Tannenwald said.

Still, “diversity of every kind is the hallmark of [low power stations],” Reeves said. The CBA plans to prove his point Wednesday afternoon with the release of a survey showing the diversity in programming and ownership among low power television station owners. Tannenwald said the survey was commissioned in response to FCC demands for data to back up CBA’s longstanding claims regarding ownership diversity and localism.

Thirty-four percent of low power stations offer some kind of foreign language programming, the survey reports. Of those stations, 78 percent broadcast more than ten hours per week in foreign languages. And many of those stations broadcast entirely non-English language programming.

Local programming is a mainstay of low power TV, with 83 percent of stations airing some kind of locally-oriented shows. Of that 83 percent, nearly half air more than 10 hours of local programming per week, consisting of a broad cross-section featuring news, general entertainment and political programming.

But 62 percent of those stations lack the  cable or satellite carriage required to reach most Americans, the CBA survey revealed.

However, as cable systems transition to switched digital systems, future capacity would be “virtually limitless,” Reeves said.  “Carriage of our stations will no longer impair any right or ability of anyone else to speak or be heard.”

President Obama should “exhort the FCC and Congress to make [low power TV] part of the television mainstream,” Reeves said. “A hand reached out to us will be a hand reached out to an industry that exists to serve the public, with minority ownership, owner participation in operations, and significant amounts of local and foreign language programming.”

When asked about carrying more low power stations during an interview Wednesday, Gabrielli said that while DirecTV does carry a number of low power local stations, the company would “love to make marketing decisions based on what consumers want.” But DirecTV  is bound to carry many full power broadcasters under must-carry rules, he said.

Susan Eid, senior vice president for government affairs at DirecTV told us DirecTV was aware that must-carry stations carry “significantly less” content than low power stations. Some stations spend much of their weekend airtime on infomercials, she said, calling them a “colossal waste of spectrum.” Gabrielli agreed that low power stations have “truly unique content” that deserves carriage. A change in must-carry rules to further define local programming would “give them a seat on the bus,” he said.

But National Association of Broadcasters CEO David Rehr said  while low power television plays “an important role” and wished that they could participate in the hearings, he flatly denied DirecTV’s assertions about local program.  “[Eid’s statements] are simply not the case,” he said.

“Local broadcasters are doing local news…weather…and sports…[Eid’s argument] is just a non-starter as far as I’m concerned,” he said. Rehr said the reason low power stations don’t get carriage because they are “distinct entities” with a different place in the market as defined by FCC rules.

But NCTA CEO Kyle McSlarrow said must-carry is unconstitutional and programming should be a choice left between the provider and consumer. But if we are to have must-carry, McSlarrow agreed there should be a “compelling public policy rationale” as to why a station is considered must-carry.  A low power station with more local content would deserve carriage more than a full power station that just goes through the motions – a “legitimate distinction,” McSlarrow said.

McSlarrow said that over time the must-carry rules would be obsolete as NCTA members go digital, freeing up capacity and moving to a switch network. “If we have that kind of capacity to offer…choice to consumers, we’re going to want to do that anyway.”

But McSlarrow said that NCTA was currently focused on using new capacity for faster  broadband networks. In such a scenario,  online video distribution could eliminate the need for stations to demand carriage.

But being able to offer consumers more programming is still “an imperative,” he said. “With more capacity…our [offerings] will empass greater numbers of diverse programming.”  And cable operators will respond to market pressures, he predicted. “If I were a cable operator…I’d want to cover the base for every possible niche…there is no question about it.”

Andrew Feinberg is the White House Correspondent and Managing Editor for Breakfast Media. He rejoined BroadbandBreakfast.com in late 2016 after working as a staff writer at The Hill and as a freelance writer. He worked at BroadbandBreakfast.com from its founding in 2008 to 2010, first as a Reporter and then as Deputy Editor. He also covered the White House for Russia's Sputnik News from the beginning of the Trump Administration until he was let go for refusing to use White House press briefings to promote conspiracy theories, and later documented the experience in a story which set off a chain of events leading to Sputnik being forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Andrew's work has appeared in such publications as The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Washington Internet Daily, Washington Business Journal, The Sentinel Newspapers, FastCompany.TV, Mashable, and Silicon Angle.

Spectrum

Dish Requests Temporary Authority to Use 600 MegaHertz Band Licenses for 5G Test in Las Vegas and Denver

Dish said it needs non-contiguous 600 MHz band licenses to test open-RAN 5G network in two markets.

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Dish President and CEO Erik Carlson

WASHINGTON, September 9, 2021 – Dish Network is asking the Federal Communications Commission to grant it a temporary license to use 600 MegaHertz (MHz) spectrum band licenses owned by another licensee for 5G tests in Las Vegas and Denver.

Dish said in a Wednesday submission to the FCC that Bluewater Wireless II, the owner of the 600 MHz spectrum band in question, has consented to allow Dish to use the spectrum under a regime called a special temporary authority.

Dish said it requires Bluewater’s spectrum licenses in the two cities to test and validate equipment for its 5G broadband network, using open radio access network technologies. The company said it needs the licenses to test carrier aggregation, where using its own licenses would be insufficient, because the two spectrum blocks cannot be contiguous.

“DISH anticipates needing more low-band spectrum in some markets to meet customer demand in the future,” the company said in its submission. “When and if additional 600 MHz spectrum becomes available, either when the Commission auctions unassigned spectrum or through future partnerships, DISH plans to use carrier aggregation at the market level to combine multiple 600 MHz assets to add capacity and improve data throughput speeds.”

“Grant of this STA will deliver important public interest benefits,” the company added. “In particular, the STA will enable DISH to put to use certain spectrum licensed to Bluewater that is not yet deployed.”

The test will end no later than the end of this year and the spectrum will only be used for testing and not for commercial purposes, Bluewater added in a letter to the FCC consenting to the arrangement.

The Denver-based company said it completed its first fully open RAN-compliant network communication in December 2020.

Dish announced that it was taking sign-ups for its 5G service in June, with the first city to get its so-called Project Gene5is being Las Vegas, Nevada.

Dish secured mobile wireless assets in a deal that allowed T-Mobile to absorb Sprint and entered the market in 2020 with the purchase of Boost Mobile and Ting Mobile. Dish has been widely expected to deliver wireless service that would add competition back in after the acquisition of Sprint.

The company announced this month that it is also purchasing Gen Mobile, a pre-paid and low-cost mobile service company, through its Boost brand.

Earlier this year, Boost bundled its K Health telehealth service in with its mobile service.

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Spectrum

SpaceX, Engineers Clash over Whether 12 GigaHertz Band Can Be Shared with 5G Operators

Competing submissions to the FCC show the friction over valuable mid-band spectrum.

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SpaceX head Elon Musk

August 10, 2021 – Research commissioned by RS Access showing the mid-band 12 GHz spectrum, a band used by satellite service providers, can be shared with 5G operations has elicited a scathing rebuke by SpaceX — and the engineering firm behind the study is responding in kind.

The FCC is currently studying the possible sharing of the band between satellite providers and mobile wireless carriers for 5G. Broadband Breakfast held a panel discussion in July, which included arguments for and against the spectrum’s flexible use. RS Access’ V. Noah Campbell mentioned the technical study in question during the session, by RKF Engineering Solutions, LLC.

In a filing to the Federal Communications Commission last week, however, SpaceX alleges RKF’s technical study is a “fatally flawed” analysis that washes over the interference consequences that will allegedly happen if the spectrum is shared with 5G operations.

To address interference concerns, the engineering study drew three main conclusions: low-earth orbit satellite user terminals, which SpaceX’s Starlink fleet uses, can reject 5G signals; technology used by mobile wireless networks will direct energy toward handsets, not satellite terminals; and 5G networks will be used largely in higher population areas, whereas Starlink will focus on low-density, largely rural, areas. It also said that without coordination, interference possibilities will affect less than one percent of next-generation satellite operator terminals.

But SpaceX said these conclusions assume that the 5G build-out will only occur in urban areas and limit the next-generation satellite service providers from operating in those areas. The company said while Starlink is “designed to optimize for rural areas initially, it will provide service in urban areas.” It also claims that there will be interference suffered by the satellite terminals on the ground to cause disruptions in service, and ultimately, thousands of customers could be impacted.

SpaceX notes that the $900 million it won in December from the FCC’s $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund – which is currently being reassessed due to complaints of possible overbuilding – backs the fact that urban coverage is part of its agenda.

The company said it has over half a million back orders in its first six months of beta testing its Starlink service with only a third of its LEO fleet deployed (it has over 1,400 satellites launched). It also said it has applied to increase the number of licensed user terminals to 5 million.

RKF engineering firm responds

But RKF said in a filing to the FCC on August 9 that SpaceX misread the study to “find harmful interference where none may exist.” It said the study finds that a 5G network with zero coordination among users of the spectrum would impact fewer than one percent of next-generation satellite terminals. With coordination, such possible interference incidences would be reduced even further, it adds.

RKF, founded in 2001 and known by the last name initials of its founders Phil Rubin, Ted Kaplan, and Jeff Freedman, said this is the only engineering study of its kind in the FCC docket and no company has refuted it.

Other complaints in the Tuesday filing include RKF’s claim that its study did not say that the 5G build-out will only occur in urban areas, noting that the study surveyed less populated areas and found that demand is greatest in more densely populated areas. It also said its study does not preclude SpaceX from operating in any part of the country. It added that SpaceX operations in urban areas with 5G networks is “still readily achievable.”

“SpaceX’s inexplicable response to our rigorous, data-driven engineering study on coexistence in the 12 GHz band is so egregiously inaccurate that we as a firm felt it needed a direct response,” David Marshack, chief operating officer of RKF, said in a statement to Broadband Breakfast.

“Though our firm has often been called on to perform analyses in Commission proceedings, rarely has our firm engaged directly in the FCC docket on its own behalf. But in multiple Commission filings, SpaceX has impugned RKF’s integrity with baseless allegations and brazen misrepresentations that have made engaging on the record necessary.

“The engineering analysis clearly shows that coexistence between satellite and terrestrial 5G in the 12 GHz band is highly feasible,” the statement added. “Any claim to the contrary is a misunderstanding of our findings which show that a 5G network with zero coordination would impact fewer than one percent of NGSO terminals.”

Dish Network — the beneficiary of mobile wireless assets from the T-Mobile-Sprint merger and which is using said assets to develop its 5G network – said in a January filing that it hopes the commission would find a way to open the band for 5G use.

Since the other satellite-using C-band spectrum has already concluded its auction, the supply of critical mid-band spectrum for 5G is diminishing. Last month, RS Access filed a study by Roberson and Associates with the FCC claiming that the 12 GHz spectrum is “highly favorable for 5G, resembles lower-mid band frequencies, and can rapidly accelerate 5G deployment nationwide.”

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Expert Opinion

Jeff Blum and V. Noah Campbell: Unleashing the Next Wave of American 5G through Competition in the 12 GHz Spectrum Band

Allowing 5G use of the 12 GHz band will lead to better broadband.

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The authors of this Expert Opinion are Jeff Blum of DISH and V. Noah Campbell of RS Access

The Biden administration has recognized the importance of spurring competition in the America economy, including the telecommunications market. Indeed, President Biden recently signed an Executive Order aimed at promoting “a fair, open, and competitive marketplace.” Today, more than 30 diverse companies and stakeholders (known collectively as the 5Gfor12GHz Coalition) are actively working to further this national priority by urging the FCC to expand the use of a huge swath of mid-band spectrum. Doing so will unleash innovation and additional choice in the marketplace, to the benefit of competition and American consumers.

We represent DISH and RS Access, two members of this Coalition. Our Coalition was founded on the belief that the FCC can and should modernize its rules for the 12.2-12.7 GigaHertz (12 GHz) band to allow for 5G use. In doing so, the FCC will further the Administration’s efforts to promote competition by enabling more choice, innovation, connectivity, and lower costs for families and businesses. And, the FCC can unleash the 12 GHz band while protecting existing satellite users, an outcome that will propel competition among broadband providers.

Put simply, allowing 5G use of the 12 GHz band will lead to better broadband options and services for all Americans. By decreasing latency and enhancing video streaming, it will allow more families to access telehealth, more students to connect to virtual classrooms, and more businesses to reach new customers. By amplifying speeds, it will enable a new generation of mobile apps that bring services families need to their fingertips within minutes.

And by boosting data collection and aggregation, it will revolutionize industries like agriculture, as farmers and ranchers will now have smart sensors that provide critical information about crops and livestock in real time. These are just a few examples of how putting 12GHz to work for accelerated 5G deployment will benefit consumers across the nation, daily.

The best part about modernizing rules for the 12 GHz Band? We do not have to sacrifice any services to reap the benefits this 500 MHz of key spectrum has to offer. As the science and data demonstrate, there are many ways to protect existing users of the 12 GHz band while expanding use of the band for 5G and other broadband services—giving all operators in this space a chance to succeed and innovate for American consumers and businesses.

The proof is in the data: a recent study by the econometric firm Brattle Group (which has specialized in analyzing the economic impact of spectrum policy) shows that modernizing rules in the 12 GHz band would bring extraordinary U.S. consumer welfare benefits. And, another study by one of the world’s leading radio engineering firms demonstrates how leveraging this spectrum for 5G networks will spur the rapid deployment of next generation applications in the United States.

Modernizing rules for the 12 GHz band truly is a win-win-win for all sectors of our economy. It benefits the more than 400 million consumers and businesses who rely on 5G for critical services; customers who depend on reliable products from current licensees like satellite providers; and families still living without access to broadband.

The evidence is clear, the record is robust, and the time is now. We must not let this opportunity to accelerate American competition pass us by. As Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said, “Our economy thrives on competition. It is the reason the United States is home to some of the most dynamic companies in the world.” We could not agree more.  And for that reason, we urge the Commission to seize this moment and unleash the power of 12 GHz for 5G.

See also “Broadband Breakfast on Wednesday, July 14, 2021 — Spectrum for 5G, LEOs and the Future of the 12 GigaHertz (GHz) Band.

Jeff Blum serves as DISH’s Executive Vice President, External & Legislative Affairs, overseeing public policy, regulatory and government affairs in Washington. He has been with DISH since 2005, and currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association as well as serving on the boards of INCOMPAS, the Computer & Communications Industry Association and the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group. Jeff was a partner at the Los Angeles firm of Davis Wright Tremaine, where his practice focused on copyright, First Amendment and anti-piracy litigation

V. Noah Campbell founded RS Access in 2018 to acquire spectrum in the 12 GHz band in the United States and to operate wireless networks serving a wide variety of constituents throughout our markets, which comprise approximately 15% of the US population. RS Access’ service is designed to ensure that customers can affordably acquire MVDDS point-to-multipoint connections to augment existing network architectures. Campbell, a wireless industry entrepreneur, also founded Radio Spectrum Group, LLC and MSD Capital, L.P.

This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast. Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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