Hill Pushes Pai to Hold to TV Station Repack Timeline

A letter from almost five dozen members of Congress, including from both parties, calls on FCC Chairman Ajit Pai not to move off the FCC's current timeline for repacking TV stations after the incentive auction and freeing up spectrum for wireless broadband.

"We write to urge you to ensure the 600 MHz spectrum...is cleared no later than July 3, 2020, as currently scheduled" they wrote Monday.

They said clearing the band of broadcasters as quickly as possible was a critical component of deploying high-speed broadband, including to rural areas, a particular concern of the FCC's, as well as many of the letter signatories, including Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.).

They said freeing up that spectrum and connecting homes across the country to broadband is not just about jobs or economic growth, but is a necessity in a connected world.

They praised Pai's work to date to boost broadband deployment in underserved communities and said they supported a "robust" waiver process for stations who need flexibility in making their channel moves, and want stakeholders to work together to find creative solutions. But the bottom line is: Wrap it up by that 2020 date.

Fox, for example, is working with T-Mobile on speeding its station channel moves. Among the others signing on to the letter are Democrats Doris Matsui (also of California) and Peter Welch of Vermont, and Republicans Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Darrell Issa of California.

"NAB pledges to work in bipartisan fashion with policymakers to complete the repack transition as quickly as possible. Every day, tens of millions of TV viewers and radio listeners rely on hometown broadcasters for news, entertainment and lifeline emergency weather alerts," said National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton. "Our goal is to protect viewers and listeners as we work towards a smooth and speedy conclusion of the repack."

“The fact that there is such strong bipartisan support should send a clear message to the FCC that the repacking process of the 600 MHz incentive auction should remain on time, as currently scheduled," said Steve Berry, president and CEO of the competitive carriers association. "I thank letter signatories, especially Representatives Cathy McMorris Rogers and Anna Eshoo, for their leadership on this important issue, and wholeheartedly agree that clearing the 600 MHz band as quickly as possible is critical to the ongoing effort to bring high-speed mobile broadband to areas still in need.  If the FCC wants to achieve its affirmed goal of bridging the digital divide, the Commission should stick to the congressionally-based 39-month timeframe and clear the 600 MHz band as quickly as possible.  Consumers and the economy will benefit from swifter access to this ‘beachfront’ spectrum, and I commend the bipartisan group of representatives for recognizing the need to keep this process moving forward.”

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.