Stations moving to VHF should receive equal treatment in auction, pubcasters tell FCC officials

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Public broadcasters met with FCC Chair Tom Wheeler and other top commission officials Monday to push for higher payouts to broadcasters who switch to VHF signals in the upcoming spectrum auction.

Wheeler had requested a meeting with both noncommercial and commercial broadcasters regarding auction rules. Gary Epstein, chair of the FCC’s Incentive Auction Task Force, and Howard Symons, vice chair, also took part.

Executives from the Association of Public Television Stations, PBS and CPB continue to press the commission on behalf of public broadcasters who may take part in the congressionally mandated auction, set for mid-2016. TV stations must decide by this fall whether to relinquish all spectrum for wireless companies serving mobile customers, share a channel with another station, move from a UHF signal to lesser-quality VHF, or not participate.

Public broadcasters told the FCC that proposed discounts to opening bids for stations shifting to the VHF band are “inconsistent with the purpose of the auction,” which is to use market mechanisms to determine the price a broadcaster will accept, according to an FCC filing Wednesday by the three organizations.

Paying stations heading to VHF the same as stations giving up all their spectrum will attract the most stations to the auction, the pubcasters noted, and ensure that final prices reflect the competitive market value of the station’s move.

The public TV system reps are also concerned that UHF-to-VHF bidders are not eligible to receive reimbursements from the $1.75 billion set aside to help broadcasters during the repacking process following the auction.

Public stations “face unique financial and organizational challenges,” the filing said, and would be forced to divert funding from supporting educational programming to relocation costs.

“The public interest would be far better served by allowing [noncommercial educational] stations to fund their relocation using the full, undiscounted value of their UHF spectrum from auction proceeds,” the filing said.

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