Agri Groups Challenge Microsoft Spectrum Push

Groups representing cattlemen, wheat growers, women in farming and state agriculture departments are all pushing back on Microsoft's proposal for reserved TV spectrum channels for unlicensed use, saying broadcasting is a vital rural connection.

Nine agri groups made their case against the the Microsoft plan in a letter to FCC chair Ajit Pai, who has made rural broadband a prime directive for the agency. Microsoft is arguing it needs the spectrum to provide rural broadband connectivity.

Related: Microsoft Claims Rural White Spaces Plan Could Cost Less Than $12 Billion

"While our organizations certainly understand the need for improved broadband access in rural America and support the deployment of high-speed broadband in our communities, this proposal will only serve to deprive our members of critical access to local broadcast television coverage," the groups said in the letter.

The National Association of Broadcasters, which circulated the letter to reporters, has told the FCC that Microsoft's proposal should be a nonstarter.

Related: ATBA: Microsoft Plan Would Destroy Community TV

The agri groups, which includes the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, agree, using the letter to sing the praises of local agricultural news

"Our members rely heavily on local broadcast stations to stay up to date on the important issues in our communities and the rest of the country," they wrote. "Farmers and ranchers rely on local news and weather reports to make production and marketing decisions. When fast-moving weather emergencies arise – a frequent occurrence in rural America – we turn to local broadcast TV for lifesaving information on where those weather patterns are headed."

Also signing the letter were the American Agri-Women, Intertribal Agriculture Council, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Black Growers Council, National Farmers Union, Rural & Agriculture Council of America, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and Women Involved in Farm Economics.

They noted that having to move almost 1,000 TV stations in the post incentive auction repack would be complication enough without having to find new homes for TV translators and low-power stations, which are often the only means of receiving free TV, they said.

The groups pushed back in 2013 and 2015 when the FCC proposed reserving so-called TV white spaces for unlicensed use, and are looking to plant those seeds of concern once again with the Microsoft proposal to reserve a channel in each market for unlicensed, leaving less room for LPTV and translators, which are not guaranteed a channel at all in the repack, only ones available, if there are any available, after all the full-powers are accommodated.

"Combining this loss of spectrum for unlicensed use with the sheer number of full power stations needing to be repacked and the interference protections between neighboring stations, many LPTVs and television translators could be left without a new home and would be forced out of business," they said. "When local broadcast stations go dark, rural communities are deprived of a vital source of information that is essential for managing ouer day-to-day lives."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.