Broadband plan poses threat to cable-broadcaster relations

While there is currently little love lost between broadcasters and cable operators, the two sides have a common enemy: the FCC National Broadband Plan and its goal to lift about 120 MHz of valuable broadcast spectrum off the airwaves and put it into the wireless digital space.

Broadcasters are already straining to reach consumers who once received at least snowy analog signals. Stations with spectrum in the low VHF range (channels 2-6) are especially hard hit. The FCC plans to leave that spectrum alone and dip into the spectrum used for channels 31-51, considered prime real estate for broadcast TV signals and where about 700 stations have their signals.

And how does this affect cable? To start, cable operators would probably be expected to pick up the slack by carrying broadcast signals where the broadcasters themselves can't reach consumers. In the current pay-to-play era, that could mean more costs to subscribers to pay for broadcast channels or more costs for cable operators. Even then there's no guarantee that cable systems will receive weaker broadcast signals in the lower frequencies without adding new over-the-air reception equipment or laying costly fiber between headends and broadcast studios. "They are going to be in serious trouble because the bottom line is I have no choice but to start reducing service contours," said a broadcast engineer.

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