Republican Joe Barton went to bat for low-power TV broadcasters in a hearing on
Capitol Hill Thursday to give them a little more purchase in the upcoming
spectrum incentive auction. Not a lot, but some.
“It does give LPTV license holder increased moral standing if nothing else,”
LPTV and translator licensees cannot participate in the TV spectrum incentive
auction, to be held in less than a year. The most recent count by the Federal
Communications Commission puts the LPTV licenses at 2,028 as of June 30,
2014. UHF and VHF translators total 3,838. Each holds a license that may or may
not be eliminated by the channel repack planned after the auction because they
have no guarantee of a channel re-assignment.
Barton said his bill doesn’t intend to change the LPTV/translator license
“Under current law, they have no guarantee from the FCC,” he said. “They have a
secondary license. They will still have a secondary license under this bill,
but it directs the FCC to work with LPTV license holders.”
The three-page draft bill would amend the 2012 Spectrum Act by directing the
FCC to consider the impact of the repack on LPTVs, to preserve them where possible,
and to allow them to reduce power and co-locate after the auction if they so wish. It
specifically excludes changing the legal status of licensees.
“Nothing in this sub-section shall be construed to alter the spectrum usage
rights of low-power television stations, television translator stations, or
television booster stations,” the draft
The protective language is broad, Barton noted:
“The commission shall
… consider the
benefits of low-power television stations, television translator stations and
television booster stations... [and] where possible, avoid the termination” of
LPTVs, translators and boosters as long as doing so doesn’t “adversely impact”
The one thing the bill would provide is an option for LPTVs squeezed out of the
spectrum by the auction. It would allow licensees to “request to operate at a
reduced power or from a different transmitter location consistent with the
commission’s rules, if such a station would otherwise lose its license as a
result of such reassignments or relocations.”
Louis Libin, executive director of the Advanced Television Broadcasting Alliance and former
director of engineering at NBC, testified on behalf of LPTVs. He said they
the needs of under-served minority populations and people in rural areas where
full-power stations are not commercially viable. Many serve people who have no
other access to television, he said.
“Because the FCC does not have to share auction proceeds with LPTVs, their
licenses are viewed as free spectrum,” he testified.
Libin was joined on the witness panel by Harold Feld of Public Knowledge, the
public interest lobby supported by the Consumer Electronics Association, among
others. PK has long been critical of broadcasters and depicted them as spectrum
recommend consideration against
the bill, saying it would create “needless uncertainty and delay,” with regard
to the spectrum auction.
“The FCC is already committed to doing what the original bill requires,” he
Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the Communications and Technology
Subcommittee and a former broadcaster, told Feld, “You have more faith the FCC
than I do. I don’t want a run away FCC, that just squishes [LPTVs] because they
“I was hoping to have a lot more faith in this FCC… but we have Republicans
that are frozen out. I want to send this message to them, to be thoughtful
about the public spectrum about how its used and how it’s allocated.”
Picking up from Walden, Libin started to comment on the general sentiment among
There may not be a lot of unity in the community…,” he said.
“We’re aware of that,” Walden said dryly.
…but it’s coming together,” in terms
of defending the spectrum allocation, Libin said.
Ranking member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) said she had concerns with translator and
LPTV Act. She acknowledged the role of the licensees it targets, but said their
rights are covered in previous legislation and agreed with Feld that Barton’s
draft would needlessly complicate the incentive auction. She also assured Libin
that Congress wasn’t trying to destroy LPTVs.
“We’re not looking to do something where there would be a loss of jobs or
communications these communities of interest rely on,” she said.
Two lawmakers pressed Libin to either name an LPTV operator who would go out of
business without the bill, or describe the general impact. He said he was
unable to because there is no way to know until the auction how many eligible
stations will participate, and therefore, how much spectrum will remain for the