Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) this week highlighted a very important border issue: spectrum. In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Schumer pointed out that ongoing deliberations in Congress regarding a possible re-purposing of 120 MHz of television broadcast spectrum for wireless use could have significant consequences for broadcasters in his state, given their proximity to Canada. Treaty obligations require U.S. television broadcasters within 250 miles of the border not to interfere with Canadian television signals. If stations choose not to participate in an incentive auction and are forced by the FCC to move to a new channel during “re-packing,” those in border states could face particular difficulty finding room to operate. In his request that Secretary Clinton take this up with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, Senator Schumer emphasized, “Importantly, we need to determine whether channels will be available for broadcasters before the FCC auctions the spectrum for alternate broadband uses and attempts to reassign television stations to new channels, because, once lost, the spectrum cannot be reclaimed.”
This subject is elevating to a fever pitch with the suggestions of the Joint Deficit Reduction Committee due next week. However, NRB has been tracking spectrum reallocation debates for some time. In response to the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, which suggested redirecting 120 MHz of television broadcast airwaves to broadband use, NRB submitted detailed comments to the FCC noting an auction’s “substantial risks to NRB TV members, including the potential loss of spectrum, loss of coverage area, channel changes, and infrastructure costs.” Thus far, many conversations on Capitol Hill have included the idea of “voluntary incentive auctions,” in which participating broadcasters would share some part of the revenue generated by the sale of their current spectrum rights. Regardless, NRB is insistent that any plan adopted by Congress should include specific protections against signal degradation, loss of services, additional taxes, or other deleterious effects on both those who choose to participate and those who do not. In short, Congress should fairly honor the services and investments of religious broadcasters in their local communities.