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Editorial: Vote Of Confidence?

This week, the FCC gets to be a guest editorial contributor—not that it asked to be.

In its framework for upcoming broadcast spectrum incentive auctions, which it released last week, the FCC says some things about broadcasters that should be engraved above the door of the agency’s Media Bureau and Wireless Bureau as they work together on the final rules for the auctions and the policy goals behind them.

Broadcasters, and several congressional delegations, continue to push for information ASAP and often on their options come repacking time. Broadcasters already had to pack their bags back in 2009 to move to digital-only service. For this latest move, they have the option of not selling out their spectrum, but they don’t have the option of saying to the FCC, to quote a Dream Girl: “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.”

So we’re going to hold the FCC to some truths they relayed last week that might seem self-evident—they certainly are to broadcasters—but, we hope, carry some extra weight as part of an FCC notice supported by all of its members. The FCC includes caveats about not all broadcasters delivering the digital goods and about declining viewership, so to be fair, the story is not all crowns and laurels. But this is what the FCC said about broadcasters, even as it was making its pitch to some of them to sell out:

“Broadcast television stations provide free video programming that is often highly responsive to the needs and interests of the communities they serve. Among other things, broadcast television stations provide children’s educational programming, coverage of community news and events, reasonable access for federal political candidates, closed-captioning and emergency information. A small but significant segment of the nation’s population relies solely on over-theair broadcast television stations for video programming service.

“Although broadcast television continues to be a vital source of local news and information for most Americans, the other offerings in the video programming marketplace have diverted much of broadcast television’s over-the-air viewing audience over the years. For example, in 1960, virtually all television households received video programming service by viewing a broadcast television station’s over-the-air signal. In contrast, during the 2011-12 television season, the Nielsen Company estimates that only 10.7 million television households, or approximately 10 percent of the total, rely solely on over-the-air broadcast television service.”

OK, the above was one of those caveats, but it is an important one. Assuming only one viewer per household, “only” 10.7 million—and the National Association of Broadcasting says it is more than that—is more than the populations of North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Vermont, Rhode Island, Alaska and, oh yes, Washington, D.C., put together. But back to the FCC’s proposal:

“Nevertheless, 78% of Americans say that on a ‘typical day’ they get news from their local broadcast television station (either directly over-the-air, or through cable and satellite services)—more than from newspapers, the Internet or the radio….Broadcast content draws such significant viewership that 96 of the top 100 TV shows in the 2011-12 season originated on broadcast television. In addition, many households that subscribe to other video programming sources rely on over-the-air broadcast signals for some television sets in their homes.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.