New agreement with Canada a must prior to incentive auctions, repacking authorization, says state broadcast association chief

Fourteen full-power TV stations in the Seattle-Tacoma and Spokane markets could be forced to share a channel or cease to exist if Congress fails to protect them from forced band repacking following future incentive auctions, according to a letter from the Washington State Association of Broadcasters to Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA).

Repacking of television stations into a smaller portion of spectrum following incentive auctions could have a "severe and irreversible impact" on TV broadcasters in Washington due to an existing agreement with Canada.

The assertion, made in an Oct. 3 letter from Mark Allen, president and CEO of the Washington State Association of Broadcasters, to Murray comes as the Super Committee of Congress nears its Nov. 23 deadline for finding $1.2 trillion in cuts to the federal budget over the next 10 years. Murray is one of the 12 legislators from Senate and House on the panel.

"This effort is driven by both a perceived spectrum shortage for wireless broadband and the desire to raise revenue by the United States Government," the letter said. While Allen said the state association does not opposed incentive auctions, it has joined other state associations and the NAB in asking Congress for language in any bill authorizing the auctions to protect viewers and ensure they are voluntary.

Allen told the senator that its study of the FCC plan makes it clear that repacking the TV band after incentive auctions would be "complicated by our nation's existing agreements with Canada." In the letter, Allen explained that the process of ensuring over-the-air TV transmissions don't interfere with stations typically 100 miles away is "an enormously complicated puzzle that requires years of work and negotiation."

A recent treaty with Canada sets up a 250mi-wide interference buffer along the northern border. This prevents a station in Buffalo, NY, from being on the same channel as a Toronto station, the letter said.

The number of channels available to TV broadcasters "will be severely limited" in markets near the Canadian border, the letter said. Allen pointed to an NAB analysis based on the FCC's National Broadband Plan that shows 84 of 204 full-power stations, TV translators and LPTV stations in Washington could be impacted by the auction and repacking.

"Eighty-four of Washington's television stations now operate above TV channel 30. Eighty-three stations would not have a channel, forcing them to share channels with another station or cease to exist," the letter said. Stations in jeopardy include 14 full-power TV stations, 69 TV Class A stations and TV translators and LPTV stations.

The letter asks Congress require a new memo of understanding, agreement or treaty with Canada to be finalized before it authorizes the FCC to repack the TV band or relicense broadcast spectrum. "Such an understanding, agreement or treaty must provide any remaining U.S. broadcast TV station located within 250 miles of the international border with a new comparable DTV channel that has been fully coordinated and approved by the appropriate Canadian administration that ensures Washington broadcasters can continue to serve their current population and service area," the letter said.

Short of such action, the state's TV viewers could lose access to their favorite programs and emergency information. "We are asking for your help to prevent this from happening," the letter said.

Phil Kurz

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.