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State broadcast associations ask joint deficit committee to ‘preserve viewer access’

On Sept. 22, the heads of 11 state broadcast associations told the Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction that any legislation authorizing voluntary incentive auctions in order to meet the FCC’s goals for freeing up spectrum to meet future wireless broadband needs should “preserve viewer access to their current local stations” and “maintain local broadcasters’ ability to compete and innovate in the future.”

In a letter to the joint committee, which was created in April as part of an eleventh-hour deal to avert a government shutdown, the heads of the state broadcast associations acknowledged that giving the FCC authority to conduct voluntary incentive auctions could give the government a new revenue-raising opportunity. However, any legislation authorizing the auctions should include two “specific safeguards to ensure that:” over-the-air TV viewers who watch local TV stations today can continue to do so after the auction, and spectrum repacking envisioned by the FCC and broadcasters who don’t participate in the auction “are held harmless by the process.”

“More than 46 million Americans rely exclusively on free, over-the-air television for emergency communications, local news, and entertainment,” the letter said. “It is essential that we preserve their access to local television stations…”

To protect the ability of broadcasters to innovate, the leaders of the state broadcast associations told lawmakers that moving broadcasters off spectrum “better suited for innovative new products” would “stunt the growth” of mobile DTV and have “the perverse effect of aggravating any future ‘spectrum crunch.’”

The leaders also asked the committee to limit the FCC’s authority to one auction for TV spectrum.

“Repeated auctions and repacking will severely undermine investment in the broadcast industry and, more importantly, create massive consumer confusion,” the letter said.

The letter also noted that some see the revenue generated by spectrum auctions as “easy money.” However, the projected sum is small compared to the committee’s goal. Congress has given the 12-member bipartisan Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction until Nov. 23 to identify $1.5 trillion in budget savings over the next 10 years.

The heads of the Arizona Broadcaster Association, California Broadcasters Association, Maryland/D.C./Delaware Broadcasters Association, Massachusetts Broadcasters Association, Michigan Association of Broadcasters, Montana Broadcasters Association, Ohio Association of Broadcasters, Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters, South Carolina Association of Broadcasters, Texas Association of Broadcasters and Washington State Association of Broadcasters signed the letter.