Local Focus Urged For Repack Consumer Education Fund


Tuesday afternoon saw a tribute to a beloved individual who House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden said “spent his life working to maintain a bipartisan spirit in facing the communications challenges we all seek to address.” It also featured a last hurrah for Senator-elect Marsha Blackburn as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

Much was said, with the NAB’s Curtis LeGeyt offering his take on a “serious shortage” of large TV tower crews and the problems for meeting the FCC’s TV and radio station repack deadlines.

On that note, America’s Public Television Stations wants the FCC to invest millions in consumer education regarding the repack that puts the focus on local television.

Specifically, APTS President/CEO Patrick Butler told the House Subcommittee during a hearing on the RAY BAUM’s Act that the FCC should invest $50 million on consumer education that puts local TV at its focal point.

It was a strong endorsement of testimony offered by Bohdan Zachary, GM of Milwaukee PBS, parent of broadcast TV stations WMVS and WMVT.

Zachary noted that the fund established by Congress to help viewers adapt to channel changes in the aftermath of the spectrum incentive auction should include a significant investment in local stations’ consumer education initiatives.

The APTS agrees. “As public television stations know all too well from the digital television transition a decade ago, viewers need highly detailed information and customized service to adjust to a major channel realignment, which is why we advocated so strongly for the $50 million for post-auction consumer education in the RAY BAUM’S Act,” Butler said. “Public television stations have a long history of close interaction with our viewers, through fundraising drives, local partnerships and community engagement activities. Local public television stations throughout the country are prepared to employ these robust community connections to facilitate consumer education for viewers of both public and commercial television, just as Milwaukee PBS did.”

With that, “significant funding for local stations’ participation” in repack consumer education initiatives was asked for.

“We look forward to working with the committee and the Federal Communications Commission to complete this transition efficiently and successfully and to ensure that no viewer is left behind,” Butler said.

Meanwhile, LeGeyt, the NAB’s EVP/Government Relations, said that as the FCC moves forward “with a massively complex repack process,” early warning signs suggest that viewers are at risk.

“In the first phase of the repack, which was completed two weeks ago, 79 stations successfully completed their moves on time,” LeGeyt said. “However, 11 broadcasters were unable to meet their move deadlines for reasons beyond their control, such as inclement weather and tower crew availability.”

The FCC granted each of these stations waivers and moved them into subsequent repack phases.

The Phase 2 deadline in April 2019 applies to 116 stations and is significantly more complex, LeGeyt told the House members. “While broadcasters will do everything possible to meet their deadlines, this Committee should ensure that the FCC applies a fair waiver standard that will not force a single station to go off the air or reduce coverage due to circumstances outside their control as Congress intended,” he said.”

LeGeyt also asked the Committee to ensure that existing users of “C-band” spectrum are fully protected and reimbursed should a portion of the spectrum be reallocated for mobile broadband use.

Lastly, LeGeyt contended that the House E&C Committee should allow the expiring provisions of STELAR to finally sunset as Congress has long intended.

“This distant signal license is a subsidy for two of the largest pay-tv providers in the country, and incentivizes the satellite carriage of out-of-market rather than local broadcast stations,” LeGeyt said. “This practice runs contrary to Congress’s long-stated broadcast policy preference that viewers are best served by their local broadcast stations, and it is no longer justified.”