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.
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.
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.
During his June 18 Senate confirmation hearing for the position of Federal Communications Commission chairman, presidential nominee Tom Wheeler said it is “absolutely crucial” for the federal government to maintain its intended schedule for spectrum incentive auctions.
As broadcasters and their representatives prepare for the FCC’s upcoming auction of television broadcast spectrum, public TV’s top lobbyist is proceeding with the view that it presents more opportunity for the field than a threat.
Public television’s strongest case for preserving tax-based support for stations and CPB centers on informing political leaders about the full range of public-service work that stations deliver to local communities, particularly in the field of education, according to the field’s lead advocates in Washington, D.C.
NPR, the National Association of Broadcasters and advocates for low-power radio expressed opposing views to the FCC in a proceeding that will shape the future of the commission’s expanding class of low-power FM broadcasters. For the second time since it created the LPFM service in 2000, the FCC has been preparing to accept another round of applications from would-be LPFM operators. In March the commission asked broadcasters and other stakeholders to comment on changes that it may implement before granting the next wave of low-power licenses. The licenses go strictly to noncommercial operators, and so far have permitted stations of only up to 100 watts. This time the stakes are particularly high for LPFM hopefuls, as the commission expects all available LPFM frequencies may be exhausted in the next application window.
The two remaining finalists bidding for KCSM-TV in San Mateo, Calif., are local groups aligned with Independent Public Media and Public Media Company. The bid amounts have not been disclosed. Independent Public Media is headed by former pubcasters John Schwartz and Ken Devine, who are working to preserve noncom TV licenses for the public system. (Current, Oct. 17, 2011).
The FCC has delayed decisions on two transactions involving sales of public TV stations to Daystar Television Network to examine whether the religious broadcaster meets its criteria for localism and educational programming by noncommercial broadcasters. The scrutiny scuttled a deal involving WMFE in Orlando, pending for nearly a year, and held up a decision on KWBU in Waco, Texas. Daystar, a Texas-based religious network, has been in the market for public TV stations since at least 2003, when it paid $20 million for KERA’s second TV channel in Dallas. It most recently bid on KCSM in San Mateo, Calif. The WMFE sale fell apart after the FCC sent queries to the local entities that had been set up to operate the Orlando and Waco stations.