Society of Broadcast Engineers Initially Snubbed by FCC

Published July 5, 2010

The Federal Communication Commission has received strong criticism from the Society of Broadcast Engineers for excluding the organization from the FCC’s June 25 Broadcast Engineering Forum when the meeting was announced on June 9. The forum included discussion of a proposed reallocation of television broadcast spectrum for wireless broadband.

The exclusion of the engineers society prompted a letter from SBE President Vincent Lopez to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, which took him to task for what SBE leaders considered an intentional slight. The SBE accepted a subsequent FCC invitation to participate in the forum..

‘Dismay and Serious Concerns’
In the letter, Lopez expressed “dismay and serious concerns” regarding the SBE’s initial snub.

“Given the extensive record that SBE has of intersection with the Commission, and given the fact that SBE is the one organization chartered to represent the interests of broadcast engineers, it was a surprise that no one directly involved with or representative of SBE was contacted about this forum, or invited to participate,” continued Lopez.

Lopez noted the forum wasn’t announced until June 9, by which time the agenda and work group members had already been established and participants invited. He emphasized that the four topics scheduled for discussion—Cellularization of Broadcast Architecture; Methodologies for Repacking the TV Band; Improvements in VHF Reception; and Advancements in Compression Technology—directly involved SBE. The meetings inherently could not represent an industry consensus without SBE involvement, he wrote.

Harsh Words
Both Lopez’s open letter and a concurrently released SBE press statement suggested the FCC’s failure to invite SBE to participate exposed an underlying agenda.

The SBE statement asserts, “There seems to be a thinly veiled purpose in this meeting to co-opt broadcast television ownership in the FCC’s plan to reclaim and reallocate 120 MHz of free broadcast television spectrum for broadband services allocated by auction; likely exchanging over-the-air television reception which is free to the public for subscription-based services similar to those offered by cellular and telecom providers.”
Lopez’s letter pressed the SBE argument further: “In other words, the broadcast owners are being represented on this panel, but not broadcast engineers,” he wrote. “It appears that the participants in the panel were chosen in order to provide the commission with the appearance of an industry consensus, evidencing a predetermined outcome.”

Troubling Trend
Although, the SBE eventually was included in the discussion, the oversight raised concerns for Jim Lakely, co-director of the Center on the Digital Economy at The Heartland Institute in Chicago.

“I’d hate to say excluding the Society of Broadcast Engineers was deliberate, because it’s impossible to determine the FCC’s motivations,” said Lakely. “However, it was a mistake. How to allocate broadcast spectrum to accommodate a fast-growing wireless sector is an immensely complicated task. Leaving engineers out of the discussion certainly doesn’t help the FCC make the right call here, and it fuels the suspicions of SBE President Vincent Lopez that the fix is in.”
Lakely added: “But this has been the way the FCC operates under Chairman Genachowski lately. When his net neutrality aims were smacked down by the DC Circuit Court in Comcast v. FCC, he repackaged his plans rather than heed the ruling that put limits on the FCC’s regulatory power. Those are the kinds of actions carried out by an agency motivated only by its predetermined agenda rather than facts and law.”

FCC’s Move ‘Simply a Ploy’
“Engineers, being technologists, rarely take sides,” said Alani O. Kuye, managing partner for Phantom Data Systems Inc., Norwalk, Connecticut. “They are also known to speak their minds. Being an engineer myself, I’m quite familiar with that school of thought…. When there is a situation where engineers are shut out, it’s usually due to political grandstanding. This is simply a ploy to shut out an unbiased or opposing and in some cases truly objective party to the fact.”

Phil Britt ([email protected]) writes from South Holland, Illinois.

Internet Info:

Text of the Society of Broadcast Engineers letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski: