THANKS4, STOPPINGBY—The 5,800 or so low-power broadcast licensees in this
country have a friend in Joe Barton, a Texas Republican on the House Commerce
Committee. They have a friend as well in Greg Walden, the Oregon Republican who
heads the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee, himself a former
Barton and Walden are heavy hitters on the Hill, and for LPTVs to get a draft
bill from Barton directing the Federal Communications Commission to “consider”
them in the post-incentive auction repack is a big deal, and probably the most
that they can hope for. The problem, as Barton conceded at a subcommittee
hearing , is that his draft bill doesn’t to anything concrete to assure LPTV
licensees they’ll have a channel assignment after the auction.
“They have a secondary license,” Barton said during a subcommittee hearing on
Thursday. “They will still have a secondary license under this bill, but it
directs the FCC to work with LPTV license holders.”
The real purpose of the bill is to put the commission on notice that it will be
called out for indiscriminately crushing LPTVs and translators, which mostly serve
communities and households in areas that otherwise would not have access to TV
“Every now and then, Congress breaks out in common sense. This bill is common
sense,” Barton said. “Why should someone operating unlicensed devices in a
white space have more rights than an LPTV operator?”
The reality is that LPTVs have been marginalized from the inception of the
incentive spectrum auction. All but Class A stations are ineligible from
participating. Louis Libin, executive director of the Advanced Television
Broadcasting Alliance, testified on behalf of LPTV operators in support of
Barton’s bill. He said that the FCC viewed their allotments as “free spectrum”
since it didn’t have to share auction proceeds with licensees.
Lawmakers like Barton, who hails from Ennis, Texas, and Walden, whose district
is the predominantly rural and relatively low-income area of Oregon, have
constituents who rely on LP and translator TV service. They and others are
beginning to tread a bit more carefully on what has thus far been a disunited
and silent body of voters. No one knows how many there are, or just what they’d
have to say if the TV channels they watch suddenly go dark, a distinct
possibility after the spectrum auction. It’s a certainty for some LPTV
stations, but no one will know how many and where until after the auction.
This is rightly a concern for lawmakers, especially those in rural areas, who
will be expected to explain what just happened to their constituents’ TV
service and why. Such are the pesky details arising now, two years after
Congress spent the money it hopes to
make in the auction of an undeterminable amount of TV spectrum.
The LPTV and translator licensees most vulnerable are those in and around
metropolitan areas where frequencies are at a premium. Barton’s draft bill does
nothing to protect those operators, nor can it, really. The upshot is the
potential loss of several non-English TV stations serving specific language
enclaves in various population centers.
This would be counter to the FCC’s charter of fostering diversity among media
outlets, though anyone who’s monitored the commission for any amount of time is,
at the very least, skeptical about its level of concern for preserving
diversity and protecting the disenfranchised.
The only thing Barton’s bill could do is compel the commission to appear as if it tried to save as many
LPTV and translators as possible. As several other members of the subcommittee
observed, why bother?
Note to LPTV and translator licensees: Expect no miracles.