FCC Releases Spectrum Auction Order

The FCC this week issued the text of its Report & Order outlining the functioning of the upcoming television broadcast spectrum auction and subsequent repacking of remaining television stations.  The Commissioners approved this rulemaking last month by a partisan 3-2 vote.

Notably, the FCC decided that it will make “all reasonable efforts” to preserve a repacked TV station’s audience and coverage area, but specified that this was not a “hold harmless” provision.  “[I]n determining what is ‘reasonable,’” the report reads, “we agree with AT&T and other commenters that we should take into account the other objectives in the Spectrum Act, including the goal of repurposing spectrum — an objective which clearly militates in favor of an efficient repacking method.”

While NRB had pointed in its filed comments to the significance of the Spectrum Act’s “no-alter” clause for low power television, the FCC decided to decline repacking protection for LPTV and translators.   The order states:

We recognize that our decision will result in some viewers losing the services of these stations, may strand the investments displaced LPTV and TV translator licensees have made in their existing facilities, and may cause displaced licensees that choose to move to a new channel to incur the cost of doing so. On balance, however, we conclude that these concerns are outweighed by the detrimental impact that protecting LPTV and TV translator stations would have on the repacking process and on the success of the incentive auction.

Among those dissenting to this rulemaking was Commissioner Ajit Pai.  Commissioner Pai observed, “Broadcasters that do not participate in the incentive auction are not asking for special treatment. They… are simply asking to be held harmless rather than being made losers. This is a reasonable request, and we should have granted it. Indeed, I believe that this was Congress’s intent.” He added his concern that after the FCC’s rulemaking, “[T]here is a greater risk that some Americans will be left without any over-the-air television service after the incentive auction. This is wrong.”

NRB has and will continue to call on the FCC to purposefully protect programming choices for Americans, specifically the religious and family programming that NRB TV members provide free of charge to local communities.

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: June 6, 2014