Public TV, radio fight auction rule

Apr 23, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Public broadcasters say they need changes in a Federal Communications Commission regulation to protect many public television and radio stations from losing their spectrum.
At issue is an FCC rule subjecting public broadcasters and other noncommercial entities to auctions when they vie against competing applicants for so-called “nonreserved” frequencies, which are available for commercial and noncommercial use.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Public Radio, the state of Oregon and the Association of America’s Public Television Stations-public broadcasting’s lobbying arm-filed a court challenge last year to the FCC’s decision, and the oral arguments were heard Friday before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington.
Most major public TV stations are on “reserved” channels set aside by the FCC for noncommercial, educational purposes. License holders on those channels are not subject to competitive bidding.
But many public TV translator stations, which rebroadcast signals to outlying areas, and many NPR member stations are on nonreserved channels. That means they can be forced into bidding on spectrum if they’re displaced from their existing frequencies, such as during their transitions to digital or to accommodate a full-power station.
“If they find a channel and they’re mutually exclusive, they go to auction,” a source said about translators, adding that most public stations can’t afford to compete in the bidding process, where minimum opening bids can be as high as $120,000.
New public TV or radio stations may also have to bid on spectrum for nonreserved channels.
The FCC maintains that the agency, in crafting its rule, followed the dictates of Congress, which stipulated the change in a budget package in an effort to generate more auction revenue.
Instead of auctions, the industry wants the spectrum awarded via a point system that gauges an applicant’s value to the community.