CPB finds pubTV stations committed to keeping spectrum

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Anxiety among public TV executives about channel repacking after spectrum auctions outweighs their enthusiasm for selling bandwidth, CPB s.v.p. Mark Erstling told corporation directors during their Sept. 17 board meeting in Washington, D.C.

CPB has commissioned Booz & Co. to research the effect of spectrum policy issues on the pubTV system for a white paper CPB will release early in 2014. The outcome of the upcoming auction to clear broadcast bandwidth for use by mobile devices is as critical to the future of public media “as the original noncommercial set-aside of public spectrum and the Broadcasting Act of 1967,” Erstling told directors.

CPB’s greatest concern is loss of universal access to local public TV services, Erstling said. Some spectrum sales could result in “white areas” with no pubTV signals. “We don’t yet know if stations in those markets are interested” in selling, he said.

As researchers interview system leaders for the report, they’re finding “a significant commitment” to public-service use of spectrum. Some g.m.’s are saying they could use additional bandwidth to carry out various public-service projects, Erstling said.

But for pubTV stations that do participate in the auctions, the potential cash windfall could create political problems on Capitol Hill. Even if “a handful” of major-market stations sell bandwidth, “that could bring in half a billion dollars — it’s not out of that realm,” Erstling said. “But the money goes to the license holder,” which may be an institution whose core business is not public media.

“The key players on Capitol Hill have to understand how these funds are distributed,” he said, “and we need to show that our appropriation is still vital to the continued operation of the system.”

This article was first published in Current, Sept. 23, 2013.
Update: This item has been corrected from the print version to reflect that Booz & Company, not Booz Allen Hamilton, is doing research for the white paper that CPB will produce.

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