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Groups Seek FCC Public Interest Spectrum Use Inventory

While broadcasters have called on the the FCC to do a spectrum use inventory before trying to reclaim broadcast  spectrum for broadband, an alliance of public interest groups is advising the commission to conduct a broadcast spectrum public interest inventory before proceeding to reclamation.

The groups, which include the Campaign Legal Center, NOW, Benton Foundation, Media Alliance and the National Hispanic Media Coalition, told the FCC in comments Monday that there is not enough evidence on either side of the argument.

Those two sides are those, led by the Consumer Electronics Association, who have concluded broadcasters are not using spectrum efficiently and are pushing the FCC to repurpose it, and broadcasters who argue that multicasting and mobile DTV and their unique local news public service offerings are prime examples of their efficient use of spectrum. "This incongruence of opinions, supported by little evidence on either side, underscores the need for the Commission to collect and analyze data on how broadcasters are serving their communities," the groups argue.

Specifically, the groups want the FCC to use its already-approved new reporting form (355), which requires broadcasters to list the type and number of hours of programming on primary streams and multicasts. "Armed with this information, the Commission will be able to determine whether or not broadcasters are using their digital channels and if they are airing programming responsive to the public."

If they are not, the FCC should be free to repurpose it, they say. "If television broadcasters are using their spectrum and serving the public, then a diminution of spectrum could threaten the viability of these services."

But either way, that accounting should come before the FCC starts re-auctioning spectrum. "Before the Commission moves forward with its proposals, which could negatively affect the viability of broadcast public services, it should substantiate these differing claims of spectrum efficiency by implementing Form 355," the groups argue.

The FCC is proposing allowing broadcasters to channel share, but the groups warn that sharing should not become a way to "eviscerate" station ownership limits by allowing shared decision-making that could become de facto control.