Technology

Public Broadcasters Express Concern Over FCC Wireless Auction

By / Jun 17, 2014 (Tomasz Wyszoamirski/ThinkStock)

While the wireless industry is ready to embrace a Federal Communications Commission ruling that sets up an auction for spectrum used by TV broadcasters, the Association of Public Television Stations warns that it could lead to viewers losing access to over-the-air stations.

As the Federal Communications Commission was embroiled in an ongoing to-do over net neutrality last month, another decision the agency made around the same time earned plaudits from the tech industry.

But that decision—allowing low-band wireless spectrum used by broadcast television channels to be auctioned off in a sale to wireless broadband providers—has a public broadcasting group raising major concerns. More details:

About the Plan

Last month the FCC preliminarily approved rules for the auction, including a controversial provision setting aside a portion of the wireless spectrum to be sold to smaller wireless carriers. Some stations might be required to move to different channels to make room for the added wireless spectrum. The plan would also expand the access to former television bands for unlicensed wireless use (think better WiFi).

Wireless and tech industry groups largely welcomed the move. Competitive Carriers Association President and CEO Steven K. Berry said in a statement, “Creating a spectrum reserve will allow every carrier, large and small, the opportunity to bid in the auction, which is critically important given the superior propagation characteristics of low-band spectrum.”

Turnabout on Public Television?

The plan is not without its critics—notably, those in the public-television business. Association of Public Television Stations President and CEO Patrick Butler, along with his counterparts at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Public Broadcasting Service, issued a statement in which they argued that the FCC’s plan does not do enough to protect access to freely available public-television service—and, further, ignores decades of precedent that does just that.

“The Public Broadcasting Act specifically mandates that public television reach every American citizen, everywhere in the country, for free, and for more than 60 years the commission’s own policies on spectrum reserved for noncommercial educational television have honored and safeguarded that mandate,” the letter states, according to TV News Check. “We believe the commission’s rejection of this long-standing policy is a grievous error that risks breaking faith with the nation’s commitment to universal service for noncommercial educational television.”

Speaking to the New York Times, Butler suggested that the FCC didn’t appear to be concerned by the possibility that the auction might lead to some parts of the country losing access to public broadcasting—though he admitted that his organization couldn’t say for sure whether that might happen.

“The commission didn’t seem very interested in acknowledging the possibility that it might happen, or working with us to make sure it didn’t,” he told the Times.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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