FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn wants to apply the brakes before taking broadcast television spectrum and handing it over to broadband interests. She had a number of reasons for the application of caution and rigorous review, including the pursuit of communications ownership diversity and the public interest.
Clyburn is concerned that broadcast is the only medium “through which our nation’s public interest goals are effectuated.” Further, she expressed fears that the most likely current licensees to agree to give up spectrum would be small minority and/or female-owned operations, doing further damage to the diversity level of the broadcast medium. She is also concerned that the television’s commitment to journalism will not translate over to internet applications.
Here are Clyburn’s full remarks on the television aspect of the National Broadband Plan:
“With respect to the spectrum currently occupied by television broadcasters, I want to note a few words of caution. While the Plan acknowledges the current public interest mandates and goals of broadcast spectrum, it does not contain a rigorous analysis of the practical implications of its proposed actions on the public interest. This is a serious concern given that the broadcast spectrum is the lone spectrum through which our nation’s public interest goals are effectuated.
“Likewise, the Plan does not study the impact that a spectrum sell-off would have on women and minority-owned broadcast television stations. It is certainly possible, if not likely, that the stations most amenable to accept the buyout would be those few owners. It is no mystery how poorly these groups are represented among the media ownership ranks; a plan that would further decimate the prospects for women and minority owners is untenable. In my view, we may be doing the country a disservice if our actions left Americans relying on over-the-air television with only the major networks at the expense of smaller stations serving niche audiences who rely on them for their news and information.
“Fortunately, the Commission is in the process of at least two inquires that can inform our treatment of the broadcast spectrum. First, the Commission is in the throes of its quadrennial media ownership review, through which we are examining the state of the television and radio markets. In particular, the Commission is studying whether its rules promote competition and diversity in the broadcast marketplace. This inquiry will also yield a good look at the degree to which broadcasters are currently serving the public interest.
“Second, the Commission recently undertook an inquiry into the future of journalism. This process hopefully will help us answer some essential questions that may shed light on contracting the broadcast spectrum. For example, what will the effect of moving this spectrum from broadcast to mobile use be on the delivery of news and information to local communities? I am very concerned about sacrificing an essential service to our communities in favor of new apps that have nothing to do with ensuring that we can have meaningful access to the news and information critical to our daily lives. It is unclear at this point whether the Internet can currently replace these trusted sources.
“I do support the Plan’s efforts, however, insofar as they recognize that the broadcast spectrum is not being used efficiently across the board. If broadcasters are not using the spectrum we have given them for free, then it should be put to different use. Broadcasters must be partners in this endeavor. I look forward to working with all of the parties to develop a long-term solution that makes sense in light of all of valid concerns that have been expressed.”
RBR-TVBR observation: Broadcasters have always had to answer to a higher authority than their media competitors. No other medium – not magazine, not cable, not satellite, certainly not the internet, and not even newspaper – have a direct government mandate to serve the public interest. It is refreshing to finally hear that cited as a positive factor for all concerned as this contentious battle over spectrum begins to brew.