Translator/LPTV showdown out west


When the FCC opened its most recent window for LPTV and TV translator applications, some mutually exclusive applications came in along the Utah-Idaho border. That’s not unusual, except for the number of translators involved.

The Franklin County TV District in Preston, ID already has 15 translators. It has applied for four more, which are also being sought for translators or LPTVs by private applicants in Logan, UT, a city 10 times the size of Preston a few miles to the south.

Entrepreneurs seeking to get on the air in Logan charge that they are facing unfair competition from a government entity spectrum hog which is gobbling up far more licenses than it reasonably needs.

“They’re abusing the spectrum,” complained Ruben Rodrigues, who, as R&D Media, had applied for two channels in Logan which are also being sought by the Franklin County TV District. He claims that Franklin County could easily confine its spectrum usage to its own county with directional antennas, but the government group refuses to do so.

Larry Soule, who owns Soule Video Productions in Logan, has applied for two channels. He also faces mutually exclusive applications from the Franklin County TV District. He sought to talk about a settlement, but said Franklin County refused to even have discussions. Instead, they plan to go to auction and easily outbid him, raising a few extra dollars from each household in the county if necessary. “I can’t beat a county,” Soule noted.

As a government entity, the Franklin County TV District does not have to submit a filing fee with its applications. It does have to pay if it wins an auction. But then, it can apply for a federal grant to actually build the translator. “My own taxes are competing against me,” Soule complained.

Norman Jaussi, engineer for the Franklin County TV District, laughed at being accused of wanting too many translators. He told RBR/TVBR that while his county has 15 translators and has applied for four more (he really sees it as 9 plus 4, since the other 6 don’t come into play for coordination around the state border), Cache County, which is where Logan is located, has 12 and has applied for 11 more.

“We’ve been fighting this battle for 15 years,” he said, indicating that he expects to negotiate with the neighboring county. “There has to be some compromise,” Jaussi said. But he’s not keen on cutting any deal with Soule or Rodrigues, whom he believes are hoping to get a license and then sell it at a profit.

While Franklin County does have 15 licenses now, Jaussi says six are covering a remote canyon area, while the main network serving the area around Preston is nine translators which, now that they are all digital, deliver 18-20 channels from commercial and PBS stations in Salt Lake City-Ogden, Utah and Pocatello, Idaho. And he’s proud that the signals are so good that they serve numerous cable systems in neighboring states and even many households in Cache County, Utah that aren’t covered by their own county’s system.

If Franklin County succeeds in getting more translator licenses, Jaussi says it will add some of the independent stations from Salt Lake City-Ogden which are not currently available in the southeast corner of Idaho. He’s applied for four, but is hoping to come out with two once the horse-trading with Cache County is done and the FCC holds its auction. That could be quite a few years away.

Meanwhile, Rodrigues and Soule say they plan to file complaints with the FCC that the Franklin County TV District is abusing the public interest by hogging so much spectrum and blocking any diversity of local ownership. Whether the FCC even has any authority to act remains to be seen, since spectrum auctions are mandated by law.

RBR/TVBR observation: We opposed spectrum auctions right from the get-go as being bad public policy. Here is yet further evidence that we were right and the United States Congress was wrong – dead wrong.

We cannot say who is the more deserving in this tug-of-war, but the FCC used to have rules and procedures for making such a determination. It wasn’t fast, but at least it put the public interest ahead of who can write the biggest check.