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FCC Committee Calls For "S" Class TV Stations

The FCC's advisory committee for "diversity in the digital age" has recommended that the FCC authorize broadcasters to sublease digital spectrum to qualified applicants, effectively creating a new, "S class" of TV station as proposed by Media Access Project, according to a copy of the recommendation supplied B&C by a committee member.

The idea is to promote diversity of voices while allowing economically disadvantaged businesses to run stations without having to put up the capital to start a station from scratch or buy one outright, both of which are increasingly tough given the economic slide.

Compensation for broadcasters would be determined by baseball style arbitration.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin has proposed allowing small and distressed businesses (which could include women and minorities) to lease digital spectrum and program the channels, which would also get must-carry rights.

One key difference between the Martin and MAP plans was that the MAP proposal (similar to one it offered up in 1995) requires the licensing of the digital subchannels, with the caveat that the S Class license holder would have to lease back spectrum to the main station if it needed the capacity to broadcast HD content, up to six hours per day.

Another condition would be that no more than 50% of the broadcast day on the S Class station could be devoted to "commercial matter."

Martin's plan was slammed by Democratic FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein and Rainbow/PUSH Coalition founder the Rev. Jesse Jackson as a form of "media sharecropping" since minorities would only get to lease the spectrum. Schwartzman said this is different since "it gives them an asset that is finite and in their control."

"We have not had a chance to review the committee's proposal," said a spokesman for Commissioner Adelstein.

"I am glad they are making the recommendation. I think it is a concept worth exploring," said Media Access Project President Andy Schwartzman. "I don't know if it will work," he says, but thinks the idea should be vetted.

The committee also recommended that the FCC come up with a better definition of qualified entities than its "small business" definition, and that it should grant a rebuttable presumption of waivers of regulatory fees for economically disadvantaged businesses.