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Upton, Dingell warn FCC that BAS plan may impair local TV service

Two members of Congress have warned the FCC that a new policy on spectrum allocation for broadcast auxiliary services (BAS) “may seriously impair the ability of local television stations to provide the communities they serve with live, local coverage of emergencies and routine news events.”

The warning came in a letter last month to FCC Chairman Michael Powell from Rep. Fred Upton, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Rep. John Dingell, the committee’s ranking member.

The congressmen noted that local stations across the United States currently share seven BAS channels (1990 to 2110MHz) for electronic newsgathering (ENG). Under the new plan, 35MHz of this spectrum will be reallocated to mobile satellite service (MSS) and advanced wireless service (AWS), reducing the current number of ENG channels from seven to five.

“As part of its decision, the FCC adopted a new ENG band plan based on the assumption that local stations will purchase and begin using new digital ‘narrowband’ ENG equipment,” the congressmen wrote. “The commission anticipates that the new equipment will be more efficient and thus enable local broadcasters to once again operate seven channels, even though they now will have less spectrum overall.

“In our view, however, the procedures established by the commission governing the transition from the old to the new band plan and the method by which the stations are permitted to negotiate proper compensation raise several significant policy and practical concerns.”

First, they noted, the FCC’s decision establishes a one-year mandatory negotiation period for MSS operators to negotiate relocation compensation with local stations in the top 30 markets. These negotiations would take place before stations in these markets had to vacate their two ENG channels. However, television stations in markets outside the top 30, i.e., markets 31-210, would be required to first vacate their ENG channels and then try to commence relocation compensation negotiations with MSS operators.

“The decision appears to place local television stations in markets 31-210 in an untenable position,” the congressmen said. Because they must vacate their ENG channels before they negotiate, these stations must either use current equipment or reduce the number of channels they use for electronic newsgathering, or purchase new equipment so they will again have access to seven channels and hope for compensation at some future time. “Placing stations in medium and small markets in the position of either losing two channels or spending significant resources to maintain their current coverage appears to be contrary to the public interest.”

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