WASHINGTON, D.C. — CPB’s Board of Directors unanimously approved a resolution Thursday urging the FCC to avoid allowing “white areas” that would lack public television coverage after the upcoming spectrum auction and channel repacking. The resolution followed a meeting Tuesday in which network broadcasters and CPB management met with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to discuss the auction, set for mid-2015. It will clear bandwidth to be used by the burgeoning number of wireless devices. Television broadcasters face three choices: sell spectrum and get out of broadcasting, sell a portion of spectrum and share a channel with another broadcaster, or opt out of the auction. Vinnie Curren, CPB c.o.o., told the CPB Board Thursday that it has identified “half a dozen major communities” where auctions could occur and where the pubTV station “is operated by an institution whose primary mission was not public broadcasting,” such as a university or government agency.
CPB will convene two meetings about spectrum over the next two months, working to craft guidelines for public TV stations to use in deciding whether to participate in the upcoming auction, as well as exploring wider policy and technology issues. Broadcasters face several options as the FCC works to clear bandwidth for the growing number of wireless devices. A station can sell all its spectrum and get out of broadcasting completely, sell part of it and share a channel with another broadcaster, or opt out of the auction altogether. The auction is set for mid-2015. CPB is approaching spectrum issues in a “very measured” way, CPB President Pat Harrison told the board at its April 8 meeting in Washington, D.C. “We’re hearing that stations need more spectrum, not less,” for public-service oriented projects.
• A new round of unrest is brewing at Pacifica. Current reported last week on the radio network’s board voting to oust executive director Summer Reese and this week on Reese’s defiance of the vote. An LA Weekly feature offers more details, including Reese removing a padlock from the doors of the network’s offices with bolt cutters and reading Bible passages to staff. The article recaps the history of the network and includes comments from former employees of Pacifica’s KPFK in Los Angeles. It’s reminiscent of the Village Voice’s September feature on New York’s WBAI (the Voice Media Group owns both publications). • PBS, CPB and APTS have joined the National Association of Broadcasters and commercial networks to warn the FCC about potential interference between TVs and wireless devices after spectrum repacking.
In an exchange with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, public television’s top lobbyist sought to dial back expectations for channel-sharing pilot tests involving KLCS-TV in Los Angeles. Patrick Butler, president of the Association of Public Television Stations, responded to a blog post in which Wheeler enthusiastically described the experiment as mapping a “future” of broadcasting in which TV stations use “50 percent less bandwidth to produce a picture with increased quality of up to 300 percent.” “We appreciate Chairman Wheeler’s enthusiasm about the channel-sharing pilot in Los Angeles, and we were honored to have him visit public television station KLCS, where the pilot is being conducted,” Butler wrote in a Feb. 12 statement issued by APTS. “But we should be clear that this pilot is not intended to prove that all broadcasters can get by with half the spectrum they’re currently using.
The FCC is giving interested parties another 30 days to weigh in on comments already made regarding proposed rule changes that would benefit AM radio stations. For the first time since 1987, the FCC is taking a comprehensive look at AM radio to review possible policy changes. A window for filing comments closed Jan. 24, and the deadline for responses to those comments was set to close Feb. 18.
NPR has asked the FCC to consider reimbursing broadcasters for the costs of any antenna relocations that may result from the upcoming auction of television broadcast spectrum. In a Nov. 4 comment filed with the commission, NPR pointed out that spectrum repacking may require broadcasters to upgrade towers, which in turn could temporarily dislocate radio antennas. “To avoid undue hardship to NCE and other radio stations as a result of the television spectrum reassignment, NPR urges the Commission to construe its statutory authority broadly and flexibly to assure cost reimbursement in all compelling cases such as these,” the network wrote. NPR can’t predict the costs or number of dislocations that may occur as a result of the auction, which is slated for next year, said Mike Riksen, v.p. for policy and representation.
The FCC has set a new deadline for applicants seeking licenses for low-power FM stations, agreeing to keep its filing window open until 6 p.m. Nov. 14. After the federal government resumed operations last week, several organizations that assist low-power FM radio stations appealed to the commission to extend its window for accepting LPFM applications. They sought to adjust the time frame to accommodate aspiring licensees who had been hindered in preparing their applications by the government shutdown. The FCC initially planned to accept LPFM applications Oct.
As the FCC prepares to reshuffle the layout of the nation’s television spectrum for the repacking process, public broadcasters are girding for some difficult choices as they consider how to navigate a complex and potentially expensive transition.