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House NY Dems: Protect Our Free TV

A six-pack of Democratic congressfolk from New York have cautioned the deficit reduction supercommittee about the unintended consequences of reclaiming broadcast spectrum for auction to wireless companies.

The committee is widely expected to be considering legislation authorizing spectrum auctions among the many proposals offered up to raise money or cut spending. The auctions are expected to raise several billion dollars -- it is not clear exactly how much -- for deficit reduction.

In their letter, the legislators pointed out that a byproduct of those auctions and the station repacking that would result is that there would be a reduction in the number of channels, and thus TV stations, available to the more than 1.25 million viewers in the state who rely on over-the-air TV.

"Unfortunately," they say, "the FCC's goal of reclaiming 120 MHZ of spectrum (the equivalent of 20 TV channels) may leave insufficient spectrum for the majority of stations currently serving cities including Buffalo, Syracuse, Watertown and Plattsburgh, and fewer stations in New York City and the state capital.

"Receiving free over-the-air TV is extremely important to New York consumers during these tough economic times," they wrote to the co-chairs of the committee, which is running up against a Nov. 23 deadline for a deficit-reduction proposal per the stop-gap bill passed last summer. They also pointed to local TV as a critical lifeline during the recent floods in New York.

They said they were not asking the supercommittee to scrap the voluntary incentive auctions altogether as a funding mechanism, but they did say that the auctions should protect the coverage areas of stations left behind so they could continue to reach all those New Yorkers. The letter essentially echoed the National Association of Broadcasters position that, while it did not outright oppose the spectrum reclamation or auction, the process must be voluntary and the coverage area and signal integrity of broadcasters who remain must be preserved.

Singing on to the letter were Joseph Crowley, Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler, William Owens, Charles Rangel, and Paul Tonko.