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NCTA, Dish dismiss NAB spectrum hoarding claims

Fri, 03/04/2011 - 7:35am
Brian Santo & Maisie Ramsay, Wireless Week

The NCTA, acting on behalf of Time Warner Cable, and Dish Network have both fired back at the National Association of Broadcasters, dismissing the NAB's allegations that TWC and Dish are hoarding spectrum.

In separate letters sent to leaders of the Senate Commerce and House Energy and Commerce committees, Dish and the NCTA disputed the allegations, the former charging the NAB was "wrong" and the latter going a step further to call the NAB "flat wrong."

The rebuttals were in response to allegations made to the same Congressional Committees by the NAB, which asked the officials to investigate Dish Network and Time Warner over alleged spectrum hoarding.

Dish's rebuttal letter did not address comments made by its CEO Charlie Ergen in a recent earnings call that suggested the company had no definitive plans for its unused spectrum holdings. A Dish spokeswoman declined to comment on Ergen's statements, which the NAB has used to support its allegations that Dish is hoarding bandwidth.

"Verbatim quotes are a stubborn thing. Dish's CEO has admitted to strategically warehousing spectrum for long-term gain," NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said in an e-mailed response to Dish's rebuttal letter. "Spectrum is a speculative investment on their part."

The NAB has also targeted Time Warner Cable for alleged spectrum hoarding after Time Warner Cable CFO Robert Marcus told investors the company didn't have any immediate plans to use its AWS spectrum and suggested the company would let the spectrum increase in value until it could be sold off at a profit. Time Warner Cable purchased AWS spectrum in 2006 along with a group of other cable companies. The spectrum has sat largely unused, though Cox Communications has used it to deploy wireless services in three markets. Time Warner did not reply to requests for comment by press time.

The NCTA in its letter noted deployment of wireless by Cox and by BendBroadband and went on to say:

"With respect to the AWS spectrum held by several cable companies, it is well understood that it will take years to clear that spectrum of incumbent licensees and build out an advanced broadband wireless network. That is the case with SpectrumCo, the AWS licensee in which Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks hold an interest – and to whose spectrum we assume the NAB's letter refers to."

The NCTA pointedly noted that cable companies have paid for their spectrum, while broadcasters have use of theirs for free.

The NAB's spectrum hoarding allegations come as the group is lobbying against FCC plans to sell off additional television broadcast spectrum through incentive auctions. The FCC wants to use the bandwidth to address a shortage of spectrum for mobile broadband services.

The NAB said it supports the auctions as long as they're strictly voluntary but opposes any regulations that would force broadcasters to give up additional spectrum. Broadcasters gave up 108 MHz during the transition from analog to digital television, and some are opposed to relinquishing additional spectrum to the wireless industry.

The FCC's proposed auctions of additional television airwaves got a boost this week from new legislation proposed by Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who have introduced a bipartisan bill giving the FCC the authority to conduct incentive auctions of television broadcast spectrum. The bill also requires the FCC to ban spectrum speculation and conduct an inventory on the country's spectrum resources.

The NCTA was explicit in charging the NAB with trying to distract from that proposed auction. It said the NAB accusations are "nothing more than a finger-pointing exercise transparently designed to distract policymakers from the important task of evaluating national spectrum policy."

The cable letter, signed by NCTA executive vice president James Assey, also said: "Instead of attempting to explain the role broadcasters can play in addressing these critical needs, NAB instead seeks to deflect attention from their spectrum holdings by advancing the baseless accusation that licensees which purchased spectrum at auction, and are in full compliance with the FCC's requirements governing such frequencies, are engaged in the 'warehousing' and 'hoarding' of that spectrum."

"With all due respect, the NAB is wrong," said Dish general counsel Stanton Dodge in his March 3 letter to Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas), Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.). "Dish Network has a proven track record of putting its licensed spectrum to commercial use and enhancing competition for the benefit of American consumers."

Dodge said Dish "welcomed" the spectrum inventory proposed by the NAB, which would create a comprehensive catalogue of how bandwidth is being used by U.S. spectrum licensees.

Dish Network currently provides local television service to all 210 local markets in the United States, as required by conditions of a waiver granted under the FCC's Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2010 (STELA).

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