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Farmers Plow Into FCC Over Translator Treatment

Add farm groups, including farm broadcasters and state agriculture departments, to the list of those concerned about the FCC's plan to reserve a second channel for unlicensed after the post-incentive auction repack, in this case the perceived threat to weather and commodities info critical to agricultural small businesses.

The FCC has proposed that after all the TV stations have been relocated, if there is a channel available in a market it should be reserved for unlicensed use. The auction already does not include licensed low power and translator stations, or provide for their protection in the repack. Reserving a channel would leave one fewer place for those translators and low powers to find a home, or for a new TV station to be built. It would also reduce the spectrum for potential new broadcast services.

In a letter to the FCC, most of a dozen groups including the National Association of Farm Broadcasting and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture told the FCC the second channel reserve could displace the translators that are critical to local TV service in rural communities. Translators extend full-power TV station signals to hard-to-reach places. "We are fearful that this proposal, coupled with the anticipated translator losses resulting from the spectrum auction, will disproportionately and unnecessarily harm rural television viewers," they told the commission.

They said that they were "puzzled" by a proposal that contemplates even more translator losses for the speculative gains from unlicensed devices.

The National Association of Broadcasters has pointed out that after years of available TV white spaces, there are few devices out there using all that white space. The agriculture groups agree, saying the benefits have "not yet materialized and may never materialize."

They said they found it "extraordinary" that the commission would consider displacing TV translators serving rural communities on the "gamble" that unlicensed would provide future benefit.

Congress provided no protection for low powers (with the exception of Class As) or translators, but Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) have registered their concern with the treatment of low powers and translators in the auction. Elsewhere a quartet of House Republicans have told the FCC they think incentive auction success means saving LPTVs and translators.