While legislation authorizing incentive auctions left the
FCC to interpret what best efforts would entail when it comes to protecting the
TV stations that remain in business, legislators representing various minority
constituents have sent the commission a clear signal.
Members of the Congressional Hispanic, Black and Asian
Pacific American Caucuses (together the Tri-Caucus) have told the FCC that it
needs to make sure that its constituents have uninterrupted access to their
local TV stations, and at no degradation or loss of service, after the FCC
In a letter to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, they call
for a "fully transparent" process that allows for the opportunity to
review and comment on the FCC's plans before any "irreversible"
decision is made. The chairman has signaled in the draft incentive auction
proposal, which is scheduled for a vote Friday, Sept. 28, that the FCC will do
But the FCC has also signaled that it is not yet ready to
outline just how it will repack stations to optimize the clearing of blocks of
spectrum for wireless.
In making the request for transparency and input, the caucus
members also pointed out that their members are disproportionately affected by
the auctions since they are heavier free-TV watchers than the general
They also ask the FCC to ensure that spectrum reclamation
does not "stunt the growth of multicasting," which they point out has
been "an effective platform for niche minority programming."
That is a point the National Association of Broadcasters,
which provided a copy of the letter, has been making. The concern is that
reducing broadcasters' spectrum also reduces the available space to deliver
multicast channels. In addition, the greatest need for more spectrum is in
crowded urban markets, where the stations most likely to give up spectrum -- the
major affiliates have shown no interest --
are smaller, independent stations, just the ones most likely to be doing niche
While the caucus members said they were all for stimulating
the wireless ecosystem with more spectrum, they also said that given the
dependence of minority communities on broadcast TV, "maintaining a robust free
and local broadcasting system must remain a priority for the FCC."