A group of US Representatives fired off a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski pressing for details as to how he plans to clear television stations to make way for wireless broadband services. Among other things, the Reps were concerned about the fate of over-the-air viewers who rely on broadcast television, going so far as to say that a key imperative is “protecting our local television broadcasting system.”
In a letter to Genachowski, dated 2/15/11 and just released by the FCC along with Genachowski’s response, the group called for a complete user’s inventory of spectrum, and went on from there. “Additionally, a voluntary incentive auction arrangement will need to address several questions. If a licensee opts to participate in a voluntary incentive auction, what will be the effect on those licensees who opt to retain their spectrum? Where and how will they be relocated? Will there be assurances to those licensees that their new channels will be as strong and robust as their previous channels? How do you plan to protect and education those viewers who rely on existing over-the-air service?”
They continued, “It is vital that we be prepared to manage the ever increasing demands on our spectrum. We aim for solutions that protect the public interest by encouraging efficient use of all our public airwaves. Opening up additional spectrum for wireless broadband capabilities is critical to innovation and job creation in America, as is protecting our local television broadcasting system. We look forward to working with you to compile this necessary and important information.”
Genachowski, in a 3/18/11 response, repeated his assertion that a spectrum inventory has in fact been completed, although critics of the FCC’s results have noted that they show only who holds spectrum, not if it’s being used or not.
Genachowski said, “My number one goal in this process is to maintain a strong over-the-air broadcast service while meeting growing consumer demand for mobile broadband.”
In the more detailed portion of his response, Genachowski said, “With respect to voluntary incentive auctions, I recommend that Congress grant the Commission the authority to conduct them in a manner that encourages a healthy and robust broadcasting industry. Our plan is designed to minimize the number of stations that would need to switch frequencies as part of the realignment process and for those that do, to accomplish that task in a way that causes little or no harm to broadcasters and their viewers. Our proposal includes reimbursing broadcasters for out-of-pocket costs incurred in relocating and limiting loss of service to over-the-air television viewers. Fortunately, this process should be far less complex than the transition to digital television, as it requires only moves from one frequency to another rather than a wholesale change in technology. Indeed, we anticipate that the consumer impact will be quite small, as any shift in broadcaster frequencies will merely require that over-the-air viewers rescan their televisions.
The group of representatives that sent the letter included Robert Latta (R-OH), John Barrow (D-GA), Greg Walden (R-OR), Joe Barton (R-TX), Charlie Bass (R-NH), Gene Green (D-TX)), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Brian Bilbray (R-CA) and Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA).