FCC commissioner, CPB Board discuss future of pubcasting spectrum

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Will public broadcasters someday be made to give up their portion of the spectrum? That concern surfaced during a wide-ranging discussion on the future of broadband at today’s CPB Board meeting, going on all day at headquarters in Washington. FCC Commissioner Michael Copps told the board that the agency’s proposed broadband plan, which he considers “perhaps the biggest initiative ever at the FCC,” will be delivered to the president on March 17. Interested parties — including pubcasters — are currently “in question-asking mode” before drafting recommendations. One idea being floated is compensation for pubcasters that voluntarily turn over some of their spectrum to support the nation’s growing appetite for broadband. CPB Board member Beth Courtney expressed concern that financially struggling stations may feel compelled to do so for monetary reasons. Copps said such issues would need to be taken into consideration before any decisions are made. The priority with any recommendations, he added, “is first do no harm.” Another possibility was posed by another speaker, Ken Solomon of Dow Lohnes, a law firm that reps many public stations before the FCC: As over-air signals fall away, pubcasters might be given permission to keep a “lifeline” for viewers that need that service. Pubstations would receive compensation for carrying over-air signals from commercial stations. But Solomon also issued a warning. “I don’t know that we can rest assured that ultimately some sort of coercive action will be taken if [relinquishing spectrum] is found to be necessary.” But Copps stressed he wants a “good discussion” of broadband, adding that the spectrum needs to be put to good use, “and public broadcasting does that.” He also said the FCC will undertake a spectrum inventory within the next year.