Lawmakers Look Out for Small Stations

Two key lawmakers are coming to the aid of small-market broadcasters.

They are asking the Federal Communications Commission to rethink its plan for reclaiming spectrum used to beam news and sports coverage to TV stations.

The plan "if left unaltered may seriously impair the ability of local television stations to provide communities they serve with live, local coverage of emergencies as well as routine news events," House Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton told the commission in a letter Tuesday.

He was joined by House Commerce Committee ranking Democrat John Dingell. They say the plan could be especially harmful to stations in markets outside the top-30. As part of a plan to reclaim some of the so-called "backhaul" spectrum, the FCC is cutting the amount dedicated to broadcasters in the 2 GHz band and auctioning the reclaimed frequencies to satellite companies.

Although stations are technically entitled to compensation from buyers for the costs of adjusting to the new band plan, broadcasters in markets 31 and smaller face paying first and negotiating repayment later.

"The decision appears to place local television stations in markets 31-210 in an untenable position," the lawmakers said. They said big market stations, which can demand compensation before giving up their channels, could be hurt, too, if a major news event occurs in an area between a top-30 market and a smaller one. That's because incompatibility between new equipment used by top-30 stations and old equipment used by smaller stations may create interference when coverage is relayed back to stations.