ARLINGTON, VA. – First
the butter, then the knife. Federal Communications Commission Media Bureau
Chief Bill Lake bragged on public TV stations at the Association of Public Television
Stations 2013 Media Summit this week. Then he urged them to contribute airwaves
for the commission’s 2014 spectrum incentive auction.
“This year again, PBS is rated the most trusted institution in the country and
the second-best use of federal tax dollars, after the military,” he said in his
He noted the network’s cultural popularity by way of Big Bird’s presidential
election appearance, and the mad passion for “Downton Abbey.” He noted how
public stations have kept up with evolving distribution platforms through
partnerships and initiatives.
cited “Be Well Kentucky,” a collaboration among Kentucky Educational Television
and community groups to produce a 13-part TV and online series examining
health-care issues in the state, followed up with literacy workshops.
“When the commission was putting together its National Broadband Plan, APTS
brought to our attention many other cases in which public stations have seized
the opportunities presented by today’s multifaceted public service media
world,” he said.
Yet challenges remain, he said. Stations continue to work toward becoming more
inclusive and interactive, a la finds
by the Knight Commission.
“They are challenged to pick up even more responsibility for providing the
journalism our democracy needs, in light of the financial stresses hitting many
newspapers,” he said.
All this, flat federal funding and fewer contributions equals lean times for
Big Bird. Lake said the incentive auction would help stations in their time of
“Contributions of spectrum to the auction can bring a major capital infusion
for cash strapped public entities,” he said. “And the options of
channel-sharing, or a move from UHF to VHF offer a way for a public station to
receive a capital infusion and remain on the air, continuing to serve its
He said the auction was also offer a “one-time opportunity to address the
inefficiencies of overlapping coverage and duplication of programming.”
Lake also said public stations may want the incentive auction to succeed out of
a “strong interest in universal access to broadband.”
“There are reports that limited broadband has already begun to constrain the
efforts of public stations to reach diverse and underserved audiences,” he said,
citing an example in Nashville. There, the public TV station runs a broadband
program targeting the local immigrant and refugee communities. Lack of access
in rural Tennessee “hinders that objective,” he said.
“A successful incentive auction will help mobile broadband to be part of the
solution,” he said.
Lake said the APTS was working with a “major law firm” to clear up the legal
issues for public stations wanting to participate in the auction.
He also mentioned the October incentive auction Notice of Proposed Rulemaking,
which drew 250 comments as of the Jan. 25, 2013, deadline, “roughly 70 of which
were extensive,” he said. Public stations commented on how the repacking should
treat stations not participating in the auctions—a concern for all TV stations.
“We’re giving careful attention to all the comments we received,” he said.
Replies on the NPRM, No. 12-68, are due March 12.
“Last Friday was the first anniversary of the passage of the Spectrum Act that launched the auction
proceeding,” he said. “Even a year ago, many broadcasters found the auction
concept foreign and were reticent even to think about participating.
“Now, one reads news articles about how KCSM is incorporating possible auction
participation into its plans for sale Similarly, CPBI has asked in its rulemaking
comments that we facilitate its contribution of WEDY to the auction. In a short
year, both public and commercial stations have recognized that the auction is
an economic opportunity worth considering, and participation has become an
acceptable business option.”