Border Broadcasters Relay ‘Spectrum Repacking’ Concerns

WASHINGTON—American television viewers along the northern border with Canada could be among the most severely impacted if the FCC moves forward with its planned auction of broadcast spectrum, a group of state broadcast associations warned Congress recently.

In a letter to Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Mark Allen, president/CEO of the Washington State Association of Broadcasters said that the auctions will limit stations’ access to spectrum and could force them to be “repacked” onto new channels. Because international treaties with Canada require stations along the border to avoid interference with Canadian stations, such repacking “could have a severe and irreversible impact on television viewers in Washington.” Similar letters were sent by the state broadcast associations of Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin to their respective senators.

In the DTV era, full power TV stations can have service areas of more than 50 miles in radius, but to prevent interference, full power TV stations operating on the same channel must usually be located more than 100 miles apart. A recent treaty negotiated with Canada for the DTV transition requires a 250-mile wide interference free zone that would, for example, prevent a station in Buffalo from occupying the same channel as a station in Toronto.

Allen noted the complexity of interference issues with border stations and noted that, based on an analysis from the National Association of Broadcasters, if the FCC’s plans for reclaiming 120 MHz of broadcast spectrum are successful, 84 of Washington’s 104 full power stations and TV translators/LPTV stations could be impacted by an incentive auction. “Eighty four of Washington’s television stations now operate above TV channel 30. Eight-three stations would not have a channel, forcing them to share channels with another station or cease to exist,” Allen said. “This includes 14 full power TV stations and 69 TV Class A and TV translators/LPTV stations. These 14 full power stations are located in the Seattle-Tacoma and Spokane markets.”

In the letter to Murray, Allen requests that Congress look into requiring a new memo of understanding, agreement or treaty with Canada. Such an agreement would require that any new channel that a border station has to move to because of the 250 mile interference zone, be “fully coordinated and approved by the appropriate Canadian administration and ensures that Washington broadcasters can continue to serve their current population and service area.”