The FCC is investigating a California company holding more than 200 low-power-TV licenses nationwide since 2000, but not yet on the air with any of them, according to the Center for Public Integrity, which was promoting the finding to reporters Thursday.
The company could lose those licenses if the center is correct.
According to the center, L.A.-based MS Communications owner Mark Silberman, who began collecting LPTV's in 1992, says he had planned to launch wireless cable nets in underserved areas, but told the center he has never broadcast more than a test pattern on any of them, citing "regulatory changes and other factors," intervened.
Now, Silberman appears to be looking for a buyout, telling the center: "There's going to be someone who needs my channels." Some station owners could be in for windfalls from wireless companies looking for more spectrum.
License holders are expected to be on the air within three years or risk losing the license, and the FCC says MS has reported to it that its stations are on the air.
The FCC has sent a letter to MS asking it to explain the reports of its dark stations, and expects a reply by March 1, according to spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher.
The center also said that 60 of MS' licenses had expired, but Fisher said that was not correct. "They have not yet come to their renewal deadlines (the first batch begins April 1)," she said, "so I am not sure where CPI got that info."
CPI's Robert Morlino says that the confusion may have been that the 60 expired licenses are assigned not to MS, but to Silberman personally. Morlino says they are listed as "off the air" in the FCC database.