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Public TV stations could be squeezed out in spectrum auction [updated]

Public TV stations may not survive the broadcast incentive spectrum auction in some markets.

The Federal Communications Commission last Friday denied a petition for reconsideration filed last October by three public broadcasting associations asking that FCC auction rules be revised so that if the last remaining noncommercial educational station relinquishes its spectrum, that at least one channel would be reserved for a new noncommercial educational station to take its place.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler plans on issuing a package of final rules this week as he pushes the commission to keep to his schedule to hold the auction in early 2016.

By denying the petition of the Association of Public Television Station, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Public Broadcasting Service, the FCC is reversing “more than six decades of commission policy preserving these reserved channels,” the petitioners wrote.

For the first time, public TV stations’ existence will be subject to market forces.

“The commission is…putting at risk public television service to the millions of citizens who rely on over-the-air broadcasting, which in many markets is over 20 percent of the population,” the groups said in a statement. “This action also harms the vast majority of the country whose cable and satellite service depends on broadcast technology to offer local stations.”

The groups are still considering next steps to challenge the FCC’s decision. In a statement, the groups charge the FCC’s action is contrary to the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 to provide universal service and neglects the commission’s own rules and the Administrative Procedure Act governing rulemaking.


An FCC spokesperson said the commission recognizes the important role public broadcasting plays: “All eligible stations have the option to take part in the incentive auction, but aren’t required to do so. Commission staff has worked with public broadcasters to facilitate a range of auction participation options, such as channel sharing and moving to the VHF band, that would permit stations to benefit financially from the auction, while at the same time continuing to provide their valuable content to viewers.”