Public advocacy groups ask commission for inventory of public interest

Broadcasters who claim there is no spectrum shortage and that the FCC’s auction plan is hurting “public service” obligations may have opened a big can of worms. An alliance of public interest groups asked the FCC last week to conduct a broadcast spectrum public interest inventory before proceeding to reclamation.

The groups, including the Campaign Legal Center, NOW, Benton Foundation, Media Alliance and the National Hispanic Media Coalition, told the FCC there is not enough evidence on either side of the argument. “This incongruence of opinions, supported by little evidence on either side, underscores the need for the commission to collect and analyze data on how broadcasters are serving their communities,” the groups argued.

At odds on the issue are the Consumer Electronics Association, which argues that broadcasters are not using spectrum efficiently and are pushing the FCC to repurpose it, and broadcasters who claim that multicasting, mobile DTV and their unique local news public service offerings are prime examples of their efficient use of spectrum.

The public interest groups want the FCC to use its already-approved new reporting form (355), which requires broadcasters to list the type and number of hours of programming on primary streams and multicasts. “Armed with this information, the commission will be able to determine whether or not broadcasters are using their digital channels and if they are airing programming responsive to the public.”

If they are not, the FCC should be free to repurpose it, the groups said. “If television broadcasters are using their spectrum and serving the public, then a diminution of spectrum could threaten the viability of these services.”

The accounting, the groups said, should come before the FCC starts re-auctioning spectrum. “Before the commission moves forward with its proposals, which could negatively affect the viability of broadcast public services, it should substantiate these differing claims of spectrum efficiency by implementing Form 355,” the groups said.