FCC gets grief from broadcasters over incentive auction rules

The FCC is taking heat from broadcasters of various stripes after the agency denied various petitions they had made on the rules for next year's incentive auction of 600 MHz broadcast TV spectrum.  

The FCC is in the process of drafting final rules for the auction, which is scheduled to start in the first quarter of 2016. Garnering broadcaster participation will be crucial to the success of the auction, which will seek to get broadcasters to sell their spectrum rights so the FCC can then re-auction the airwaves to wireless carriers. As it crafts the rules, though, the commission risks angering the very broadcasters whose support it needs.

First, the FCC rejected a petition from noncommercial TV stations that wanted to make sure there would still be a channel available for such stations in each market after the incentive auction. The groups protesting the move said that the FCC is placing the future of noncommercial TV in the hands of market forces, according to Broadcasting & Cable.

"Through this decision, the Commission has disregarded the needs of the millions of Americans who rely on public television for essential services in education, public safety and civic leadership," the Association of Public Television Stations, PBS and CPB said in a joint statement. 

In denying the petition, the groups said, the FCC "is discarding six decades of regulatory precedent and the clear mandate of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 to provide universal service. In taking this action without a rulemaking procedure in which interested parties might participate, the Commission is neglecting its own rules and ignoring the Administrative Procedure Act governing such rulemakings."

The APTS said it is conferring with PBS and CPB on the next steps to take.

"The FCC recognizes the important public service role that public broadcasting plays," an FCC spokesperson said in a statement. "All eligible stations have the option to take part in the incentive auction, but aren't required to do so. Commission staff has worked with public broadcasters to facilitate a range of auction participation options, such as channel sharing and moving to the VHF band, that would permit stations to benefit financially from the auction, while at the same time continuing to provide their valuable content to viewers."

Meanwhile, Mike Gravino, director of the LPTV Spectrum Rights Coalition, told Broadcasting & Cable that the group plans to take the FCC to court after the commission denied more than two dozen LPTV decisions to reconsider various aspects of the incentive auction rules.

Under the rules, except for so-called "class A LPTVs," low power stations do not get to participate in the auction, or get protection from interference once broadcasters are reshuffled after they give up their spectrum, a process known as repacking, Broadcasting & Cable notes.

"Taking the FCC to court is a given for the LPTV industry, but which group does it, and when, is still being analyzed," Gravino said.

"We declined to extend repacking protection to LPTV stations. Nevertheless, recognizing the important services provided by the LPTV stations, we adopted a number of measures to mitigate the potential impact of the repacking process on LPTV stations, and initiated a separate proceeding to consider additional measures," the FCC said in a statement. "In short, we have taken into consideration the potential impact of the repacking."

For more:
- see these two separate Broadcasting & Cable articles

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