Saturday, September 24, 2011

White House Spectrum Plans Would Silence 210 TV Stations, LPTV and translator services

Buried in the President's American Jobs Act is language that would force the FCC to auction off to other services some 40% of the current TV broadcasting spectrum.  To free up that much of the current spectrum assignment, the NAB estimates that at least 672 currently operating full-power broadcast stations would have to move to other frequencies, at least 210 full-power stations would be forced off the air, and thousands of low-power and translator stations would also be forced off the air.  Many of the low power stations and translators target and serve ethnic and underserved audiences, services that would largely disappear under the proposed plan.
The White House listed $28 billion in expected "revenue enhancement" to come from auctioning off much of the recovered spectrum.  Another portion of the spectrum would be used to create a broadband wireless "public safety" network favored by several Senators.
The CBO analysis cast some doubts as to the viability of the plan and the revenue estimates. The CBO analysis came up with significantly lower numbers, and said that it would be “difficult to predict how much spectrum would be auctioned by 2021 because of the time and cost involved in moving existing users." 

“For example, the amounts auctioned as a result of incentive auctions would depend on the willingness of two satellite licensees and dozens of television broadcasters to sell their existing spectrum rights at a price that is below the market value of their licenses... Past experience suggests that relocating federal and commercial users can be very costly and take many years to complete.” 
In addition, the FCC has yet to release its analysis of how the reallocation would affect TV broadcast service and reception by viewers would be affected by the mandated changes.  As a point of comparison, during the 2009 digital transition, only 174 stations moved to new channels, and those moves were voluntary.

While the FCC has always planned on recovering some of the TV bands with the digital transition, it looks like this is too much, too fast.  The FCC, Congress, and the White House need to consider the potential impacts of such a massive reconfiguration of existing allocations, and not see it as little more than a potential source of revenues.

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