House members petition FCC to protect rural TV

Fifty-seven members of the U.S. House of Representatives have urged the FCC to protect OTA television transmission in rural areas of the United States after the upcoming auctions.

“As representatives of rural and mountainous communities across America, our constituents rely on local, over-the-air television received through translators and low-power television stations not only for entertainment but also for critical news, weather and other information,” the representatives wrote. “This includes our nation’s farmers, ranchers and small, rural communities.”

The group said in authorizing the upcoming spectrum auctions the debate in Congress centered on the goal of relieving wireless congestion and delivering mobile broadband services by incentivizing television broadcasters to voluntarily relinquish spectrum rights that could then be purchased by wireless carriers. “As part of this process, we urge the FCC not to reclaim more broadcast spectrum in rural areas than the FCC reclaims in urban areas,” the legislators write. “Our primary concern is to ensure that this plan not result in the elimination of television service for our rural constituents.”

Particularly in rural America, the group said its constituents rely heavily on translators to watch television. “There are over 4000 translators across the country that extend the reach of television station signals offering vital news and weather to agricultural and farming communities. Moreover, there are nearly 2000 low-power television stations offering niche programming important to our nation’s rural areas. Therefore we encourage the FCC to do all it can to ensure viewers do not lose access to important broadcast programming through rural translators and low power television stations.”

Rural areas account for one-sixth of the total U.S. population, representing more than 50 million people. The group requested a response from the FCC no later than Aug. 23, 2013, on how the upcoming incentive auctions will affect these rural television viewers before the commission proceeds with any plans that could adversely affect the constituents of the representatives.

Gordon Smith, the NAB president and CEO, applauded the members of Congress for signing the letter. “Rural broadcasters often provide the only lifeline to local news, weather and emergency information for millions of Americans in isolated communities. NAB applauds lawmakers for their support and recognition of the enduring value of broadcast television to rural areas.“

The lead signer of the letter was Frank D. Lucas (R-3rd OK), chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture.