FCC's Pai Plans Vote to Authorize Channel Sharing Outside Auction

Chairman says it will help with finding new homes for LPTVs, translators

FCC chairman Ajit Pai has scheduled a vote on a report and order allowing broadcasters to strike channel-sharing agreements outside of the incentive auction.

The FCC allowed broadcasters to share channels as a way to free up spectrum in the incentive auction and has been asked to allow stations to temporarily share channels to ease the post-auction repack. But now Pai wants to go ahead and allow channels to strike those agreements generally, going forward.

Pai said Thursday that at the March 23 meeting, the FCC, "for the first time [would] expand the Commission’s channel-sharing rules outside the context of the incentive auction, giving low power TV and TV translator stations more options to stay in business and continue broadcasting essential news and information to the public."

LPTVs and translators were not protected in the repack and many can and will be displaced as broadcasters—between 1,000 and 1,100—move to new spectrum quarters.

At a meeting recently at the FCC, Michael Gravino, director of the LPTV Spectrum Rights Coalition said that over 3,000 LPTVs will be displaced in the repack. And that is just displacement from the UHF channels 39 through 50 being vacated to turn over to wireless broadband.

He says that another 4,000 displacements could result from the repacking of all those stations into channels 36 through 2, though just how much repacking needs to be done and how much displacing will not be known until after March 30, when the spectrum auction is finally over and the FCC releases the data on who won what and where, as well as issuing new channel assignments for the repack. 

Allowing broadcasters to share channels could open up new homes for those soon-to-be orphaned services.