Eyes on Spectrum
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations
June 24, 2

Eyes in Washington are closely watching the ongoing negotiations led by Vice President Joseph Biden and aimed at raising America’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, while also finding substantial ways to reduce the nation’s deficit. The pressure is on for the White House and Congress to hammer out a deal, as U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said that August 2nd is the longest he can avoid a government default on our nation’s debt obligations. While much attention is being paid to disputes over taxes and the trimming back of big-ticket federal budget busters, some relatively smaller ideas (providing billions rather than trillions of dollars for the government) have become interesting addendums to the conversation. Significantly for broadcasters, the idea of authorizing a new auction of some of the nation’s electromagnetic spectrum is more frequently becoming publicly tied to the debt talks.

This is not a surprise, of course. America’s spectrum is a limited resource, thus it is very valuable. In fact, following the Senate Commerce Committee’s approval this month of a bill that would authorize a voluntary spectrum auction, Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) issued a press release that estimated the proceeds from such an auction could aid participating broadcasters, build an interoperable public safety broadband network, and direct more than $10 billion in surplus revenue to the U.S. Treasury for deficit reduction. It’s no wonder the debt negotiators have their eyes on spectrum.

NRB has been tracking spectrum reallocation debates for some time. The National Broadband Plan, issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in March 2010, suggested redirecting 500 MHz of spectrum for wireless broadband use. In that plan, 120 MHz of the redirected 500 MHz would come from airwaves currently licensed to television broadcasters. Our association, which includes a significant number of full power, Class A, and low power television broadcasters, submitted detailed comments to the FCC on this idea. Notably, NRB declared:

“The public service provided by these broadcasters is uniquely local, often showcasing programming with local churches or nonprofits. Many have developed additional digital program channels, including international or foreign language programs, and some have leased digital capacity to third party video providers. All NRB television members broadcasting in digital expended substantial sums to convert to digital, pursuant to federal directives and deadlines…. The National Broadband Plan’s TV spectrum reallocation and repacking objectives present significant, long-term challenges to NRB’s members.”

Specifically, NRB’s public filing noted an auction’s “substantial risks to NRB TV members, including the potential loss of spectrum, loss of coverage area, channel changes, and infrastructure costs.” 

The FCC is seeking authority from Congress to hold such an auction. Thus far, many conversations on Capitol Hill have included the idea of “voluntary incentive auctions,” in which participating broadcasters would share some part of the revenue generated by the sale of their current spectrum rights. However, NRB is insistent that any plan adopted not lead to signal degradation, loss of services, additional taxes, or other deleterious effects on both those who choose to or not to participate. In fact, our Board of Directors passed a Resolution this year opposing “any conditions or regulations on broadcasters which would have the direct, or indirect, effect of coercing broadcasters to give up spectrum by the threatened use of penalties, or increased or new regulatory burdens, or by any other means….” As more eyes turn to the value of spectrum, we will continue to pursue this position on behalf of Christian broadcasters.

Washington Whispers
Senators Press for International Religious Freedom
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

This week, Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Carl Levin (D-MI) introduced legislation aimed at promoting and protecting religious freedom in the Middle East and surrounding regions. Their bill (S. 1245) would direct President Obama to appoint a “Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia,” based at the U.S. State Department.


Senator Blunt, who serves on the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, stated, “As we observe political upheavals throughout the Middle East, I expect this bill will encourage the State Department to redouble its efforts to call attention to all religious minorities and demonstrate to leaders in the region that the United States takes religious freedom seriously.” Senator Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, added, “It is profoundly in the interests of the United States to promote freedom of worship and the rights of religious minorities around the world, and especially in nations where those freedoms are under threat.

Earlier this year, noting “persistent and widespread international persecution of Christians not only in Northern Africa and the Middle East, but elsewhere in the world” and particular concern for Christians in Iraq and Afghanistan, the NRB Board of Directors approved a Resolution calling on the President “to make a bold public statement against the international persecution of Christians, and to further enforce that position through his choice of Executive Branch appointments and through his foreign policy decisions.”

Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), a longtime champion of human rights, introduced bipartisan legislation (H.R. 440) similar to Senator Blunt’s bill in January in the House of Representatives. Since it was closely aligned with the NRB Board Resolution, Dr. Frank Wright, NRB President & CEO, sent letters of support for H.R. 440 to President Obama and Representative Wolf this spring.



The Inside Story: Key Government Issues for Christian Communicators
Washington Whispers
>> Senators Press for International Religious Freedom  
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