PubTV urges commission to drop ‘OET-69’ proposal

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CPB, PBS and the Association of Public Television Stations are jointly opposing a proposal by the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) to use a new software program to analyze television coverage and interference data. The proposal was floated by the commission in February and intended to update the analytical tools the commission will use in preparing for the 2014 broadcast spectrum auctions.

In a letter filed with the FCC early this month, the three pubcasting organizations said the proposal would adversely affect many public TV stations by reducing the size of their service areas.

Pubcasters were responding to a request for comments on “OET-69,” an FCC bulletin that described the methodology used by TVStudy, the software that the commission proposes to use to analyze coverage and interference among full-service digital and Class A television stations. The current software was implemented in the 1990s for use as stations transitioned from analog to digital broadcasting.

Pubcasters didn’t specify the number of stations that would lose coverage under the new system, but referred to an estimate provided by the National Association of Broadcasters, which said that more than 60 percent of stations could see a reduction in service areas.

“With the complications of the spectrum repacking and the auction, the last thing we need to worry about is losing viewers as well,” said Lonna Thompson, APTS c.o.o. and general counsel.

In their joint letter to the commission, pubTV’s Washington-based organizations said the proposed software change was unexpected and would create “uncertainty” about public television’s ability to provide universal access. Public TV stations are already struggling to understand the implications of spectrum auction process and how to navigate their way through it, Thompson said.

“What was a nonstarter for us was the timing,” Thompson said. “We just felt this was the dead wrong time to do this — it’s just one more variable that would create a lot of unknowns for stations.”

The agency has not yet announced how it will proceed with the proposal.

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This article was first published in Current, April 29, 2013.

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