Hansen Clarke (D-MI), who represents Detroit in the US House of Representatives, expressed concerns about incentive auctions in a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski last November. He was told not to worry.
Hansen said that the auctions might seem like a win-win at first glance, making room for wireless broadband and allowing cash to flow into the US Treasury. But he is concerned the losers might be minority and low-income citizens who are the predominant users of free over-the-air television.
He said any loss in coverage area would be bad, and the loss of entire stations would be even worse.
“Any reduction in broadcast service will disproportionately affect these populations – including fewer channels, lower picture quality, limited access to news and life-saving communications during emergencies,” wrote Clarke. “In the Metro Detroit area, 500,000 residents do not have cable or satellite and watch TV over-the-air using antenna ‘rabbit ears.’”
He pointed out that the problem is significantly worse in border areas, such as the one he represents, where channel repacking is complicated by the need to consult with a foreign government.
He noted that in times of emergency, cell phones are no replacement for the kind of reporting provided by broadcasters.
Genachowski thanked Clarke for expressing his concerns, and noted that the FCC was letting the market determine how spectrum is used to the extent possible. He assured Clarke that broadcast participation was entirely voluntary, and that even those broadcasters who are moved to a new channel will have the same sized spectrum slice as they did prior to moving.
RBR-TVBR observation: Genachowski says participation is voluntary, and there will be no loss of bandwidth for those who do not. We’re going to hold you to that, Mr. Chairman!