Affirmed: Incentive auction participation is voluntary


U.S. CongressA trio of Washington US reps queried FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski about the upcoming television incentive auctions and the challenges of implementing the program in border states. They sought and received assurances.

Genachowski turned the letter over to Gary M. Epstein, Chair of the Incentive Auction Task Force. He assured the representatives that no television licensee would be forced to participate against its will, and that the FCC has a long history of cooperation with Canada and expects no trouble this time.

The pace of events in Washington is somewhat underscored by the exchange. One of the Reps, Norman Dicks (D-WA), who co-wrote the letter has since retired – although that event was know when the letter 12/21/12. The other two were Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Adam Smith (D-WA).

The letter was stamped as received by the FCC 1/7/13; Epstein dated his reply 2/27/13; Genachowski wrote a cover letter to the Epstein reply a day later and now in April we are just getting wind of the exchange.

The reps were mainly concerned about anticipated trouble repacking stations. They wrote, “There are 37 full power TV stations in Washington state. As many as 14 of these could have no place to be relocated when repacking occurs, meaning that they could be forced to cut power and lose viewers. Of the 17 full power stations in the Seattle-Tacoma market — as many ten could have no place to go. In Spokane, of the ten stations in that market, four of them could be forced to move and cut their power and their viewership. This could be harmful for the stations and the people who invest in them, but devastating to the hundreds of thousands of people that rely on free, over the air television.”

The stated that depriving Washingtonians of over-the-air television was not acceptable.

In his reply, Epstein said, “As required by the Spectrum Act, station participation in the incentive auction is completely voluntary and no stations will be forced to participate. Stations that do not participate, or participate and do not submit winning bids, will stay on the air and either remain on their present channels or be repacked in the same band. All remaining stations, including any affected station you reference in your letter, must and will be repacked in such a way as to preserve their respective coverage areas and populations served, as required by the Spectrum Act. In addition, the Commission is carefully negotiating with its counterpart in Canada to ensure that we are able to both protect domestic broadcasters and reclaim an optimal amount of spectrum for flexible use. The United States has had a long and successful history of close cooperation with Canada regarding the use of radio spectrum along the border and we expect that this cooperation will continue through the incentive auction process.”

Epstein concluded, “The Commission will continue to work towards designing and implementing the best possible incentive auction, while closely adhering to Congress’s statutory direction with respect to broadcasters and their viewers. We will also continue to promote openness and transparency in our proceedings and actively solicit input from the broadcast community and the public at large. Through these efforts we will be able to conduct a successful auction that serves the interests of broadcasters, mobile broadband providers, other stakeholders, and the American people, alike.”