Nexstar, Gray, others urge FCC to terminate anti-collusion rules for stations

Broadcasting

A group of broadcasters is urging the FCC to terminate the anti-collusion rules for TV stations immediately after the final stage rule is satisfied in the ongoing incentive auctions.

In a joint filing to the FCC, California Oregon Broadcasting, CNZ Communications, Gray Television, Local Media Holdings, Media General, Nexstar Broadcasting Group, and Venture Technologies Group praised the commission’s efforts to provide broadcasters with details regarding post-auction channel reassignments as soon as possible but warned it won’t be enough.

“Broadcasters must have the unfettered ability to coordinate with their engineers, equipment manufacturers, attorneys, and other stations without the fear of adverse consequences. Accordingly, the Commission must terminate its anti-collusion rules for broadcasters after the final stage rule is satisfied,” the companies wrote. “The Joint Commenters further urge the Commission to publicly release preliminary channel reassignments prior to the conclusion of the forward auction. Elimination of the anti-collusion rules and public release of preliminary channel reassignments will greatly facilitate broadcasters’ ability to transition to their post-auction channels.”

As the group points out, even a single channel change could demand that a broadcaster collaborate with a consulting engineer, antenna manufacturer, tower owners, tower crews and other broadcasters. Specific topics needing to be addressed between broadcasters include shared towers, shared antennas and landowner restrictions.

The group points out specific examples including Gray leasing space on a Florida tower owned by Nexstar, Media General leasing space on a New York tower owned by Western NY Public Broadcasting Association, and Nexstar and Mission Broadcasting using shared antennas for stations in markets including Amarillo and Abilene.

Further, the group said that the anti-collusion rules are stated broadly enough that telling a consulting engineer, lawyer or other broadcaster that a station is being repacked could be construed as communicating bids or bidding strategies and therefore be a violation.

“There is no reasonable justification to retain the anti-collusion rules for television stations once the final stage rule has been satisfied. The Commission has explained that the purpose of the anti-collusion rules is to prevent antitrust violations before they begin. Any such concerns will evaporate once the final stage rule has been satisfied,” the group wrote.

In addition to requesting that the anti-collusion rules be lifted, the group also urged the FCC to publicly release the preliminary channel reassignments, an action the group said will further allow broadcasters to better collaborate during the post-auction transition period.

“Stations’ transitions to their post-auction channels will not occur in a vacuum. As explained above, the transition will involve many moving parts, all with the potential to collide and derail the Commission’s transition schedule plan. Ideally, therefore, broadcasters would know the phase and channel assignments of all other stations so they could determine which stations will affect their own ability to transition (without regard for their phase),” the group wrote.

The comments from the broadcasters in the group, which came in amid myriad other comments from interested parties including the NAB, CTIA and wireless operators including T-Mobile, arrived just as the FCC today kicked off Stage 3 of the incentive auction, with the spectrum clearing target adjusted to 108 MHz.