CPB Board spectrum committee sends TV CSG proposals to full board

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A CPB Board committee approved recommendations Monday from a panel examining how spectrum auction revenue could affect Community Service Grant policy for public television stations.

The five-member Spectrum Broadcast Committee approved CPB management proposals based on the panel’s findings. The full CPB board will take up the recommendations next month.

The proposals clarify key financial issues surrounding the FCC’s spectrum auctions, set for 2016, which could bring millions of dollars to stations from wireless providers eager to obtain more bandwidth for mobile devices.

Broadcasters that participate can sell off all spectrum and relinquish their license, sell part of their spectrum and share a channel with another station, or transition from UHF to VHF. A full-power station in Philadelphia could bring in $400 million by giving up its spectrum; in Detroit, $170 million; and San Francisco, $140 million, according to an FCC-commissioned report prepared last fall by the investment banking firm Greenhill & Co.

The potential influx of cash raises questions about CPB’s CSG policy, which governs how the annual grants are awarded to stations.

Ted Krichels, CPB s.v.p., station development, told the committee that TV stations’ CSGs represent nearly half of CPB’s total federal appropriation and make up “by far the largest grant program that CPB administers.”

The proposal recommends that CSG policy:

  • “Definitively state” that auction revenue will not be counted as nonfederal financial support. A station’s NFFS affects whether it qualifies for a CSG as well as the amount of the grant it receives.
  • Require that in a channel-sharing agreement between a public and commercial station, the pubTV station must maintain at least half the channel to remain eligible for a CSG, with waivers for special circumstances.
  • Retain CSG eligibility for both public stations if two share a channel, but if one uses less than half the capacity CPB may lower its CSG payment.
  • Encourage stations to be transparent with their communities during the auction process.
  • Mandate that a station that opts to relinquish its license return the CSG it received most recently.

The recommendations passed 4-1, with Los Angeles attorney Bruce Ramer voting no. Ramer said he was confused by the channel-sharing policies and wanted to do more research before the April board meeting.

If adopted by the CPB Board, updates to the TV CSG policy take affect in fiscal 2016.

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