Judges examine public stations' digital ads

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Federal judges will rule within the next several months on whether public TV
stations may carry advertising on a portion of their digital spectrum.

The Federal Appeals Court in Washington, D.C., heard arguments Monday in public
advocates' effort to overturn Federal Communications Commission rules allowing
public broadcasters to offer commercial services, including advertising, on
ancillary signals that would be made possible by the conversion to digital
transmission.

Public broadcasters argued that they need revenue-generating opportunities to buy
digital equipment.

Individuals following the case wouldn't predict the outcome, but members of
the three-judge panel made a point of questioning whether commercial
stations should be forced to compete for ad dollars with public outlets that are already
subsidized with federal dollars and tax-deductible donations.

The United Church of Christ and Media Access Project are challenging the law
on the grounds that that advertising will lead public broadcasters to illegally
stray from their nonprofit mission and duty to offer public-interest
programming not provided by commercial outlets.

John Lawson, president of the Association of Public Television Stations,
said prohibitions on advertising apply only to traditional broadcasts
but not to "nonbroadcasting" ancillary services.

The FCC rules governing ancillary services require public stations to devote a
"substantial majority" of spectrum to traditional, noncommercial
broadcasting.

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