The National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters asked the commission to wait until the incentive auction and repack have ended to consider the proposal to appropriate one or more channels in the television band for unlicensed operations.
NABOB is worried the FCC’s proposal could displace low-power television stations that provide media ownership opportunities for African Americans.
In a letter obtained by RBR+TVBR explaining its concerns, NABOB first thanked the commission for adopting NABOB’s compromise plan to allow Class C and D AM radio stations the first chance to apply to move existing FM translators. “Several NABOB members have already filed in the current filing window,” and the group believes more will do so before the window closes.
NABOB also commended the agency for its recent Enforcement Bureau advisory that explains to the public that pirate radio stations are illegal. “Many NABOB members experience ongoing harm to their lawful operations” from pirates, according to the group.
Returning to the TV issue, NABOB says African American station ownership has dropped substantially. According to the FCC’s own data, in 2013 African-Americans owned 9 full-power TV stations, 73 FMs, 93 AMs, 8 Class As and 16 LPTVs — ranging from .6 to 2.5% of total U.S. ownership for each category.
Yet, African-Americans make up 13% of the country’s population, according to the U.S. Census. “Our lack of ownership of broadcast stations is a national tragedy,” writes NABOB President Jim Winston.
And while the agency has taken steps to fix the situation, but any steps it takes that harm minority ownership undercuts the benefits of other initiatives, notes Winston.
“The vacant channel proposal has the potential to harm minority television station ownership by turning over a channel to unlicensed services that might be needed to provide replacement television channels” for LPTVs, according to NABOB, referencing an NAB study that concluded if the commission cleared 120 MHz of spectrum in the auction, more than 688 LPTVs and TV translators would be forced off the air.
According to that study, if the commission reserves one or two vacant channels for unlicensed services, another 433 LPTVs and translators will eventually go dark.
NABOB assumes after the auction African-Americans will own even fewer stations and says the FCC should do “everything it can to keep the small number” of African-American-owned LPTVs on the air.
If so, “giving away channels that may be needed by those stations goes completely against that objective.” And while the agency believes at least 2 vacant channels will remain in most markets after the repack of full-power stations, that’s only “speculation.”
LPTV is a licensed service and should be given preference over any unlicensed service, according to NABOB; that’s why it makes sense to hold off on any reassignment of TV channels to unlicensed services until the FCC knows the needs of licensed services.