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Lawmakers Ask for GAO LPTV Auction Impact Study

WASHINGTON—Lawmakers are asking investigators what next year’s spectrum incentive auction will do to low-power TV stations and the audiences they serve. Reps. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.), ranking member of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, have penned a letter to the Government Accountability Office requesting a study on the issue. Low-power TV stations and translators will not be allowed to participate in the auction, nor are they guaranteed a channel when it’s over.

The letter acknowledges that the Federal Communications Commission is doing similar research, but Eshoo and Barton want specific information. They’ve asked the GAO to run two scenarios; one if 84 MHz is auction off, and another for 126 MHz. Within each scenario, the pair want to know the total number of LPTV stations doing original programming or local news, especially those serving minority communities. The same goes for translators rebroadcasting content from a full-power licensee.

Under each scenario, Eshoo and Barton want to know how many LPTV and translators may lose channels, how many could relocate and the associated costs, how many would go dark, and how many people would lost access to them. And what to do about it.

There were 5,991 LPTV and translators licensees by the FCC’s count as of March 31, 2014. The Advanced Television Broadcasting Alliance, whose members include 700 LPTV licensees among others, estimates that one-third or more of all LPTV and translators will go dark because of the auction. That’s according to the July testimony of the organization’s executive director, Louis Libin, before the subcommittee.

“More than 5,000 LPTV and translator stations provide television service to tens of millions of Americans. In many places, these stations are the only broadcast television service available, and in many other cases, they provide communities their only access to the affiliates of major broadcast networks,” he said.

Barton joined with Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) then to draft a bill directing the FCC to “consider” LPTVs and translators in its post-auction channel repack. Barton conceded at the time, however, that LPTV and translators are secondary licensees and thus are afforded no interference protections under the law.

“Why should someone operating unlicensed devices in a white space have more rights than an LPTV operator?” Barton said at the time.

LPTVs also are lobbying the FCC for relief from their digital transition deadline, which now stands at Sept. 1, 2015, because they don’t know whether or not they’ll be left with a channel assignment by then.