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Leadership Conference Cautions Congress to Protect FOTA

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, representing over 200 groups, is circulating a letter on Capitol Hill asking legislators to be careful that incentive auction legislation does not impair viewer access to free, over-the-air TV, whose audience skews heavily minority.

Making some of the same arguments as the National Association of Broadcasters, the letter calls on Congress to preserve a viable over-the-air service.

"In our view, any legislation affecting household access to broadcast television must direct the Federal Communications Commission to make maximum efforts to preserve viewer access to over-the-air television and to consider the needs of communities that rely exclusively on over-the-air signals," the conference wrote, according to a copy of the letter. Broadcasters say that any spectrum auction legislation needs to preserve broadcasters' current coverage area and spectrum sufficient for them to offer innovative new services.

"Because of the importance of broadcast television to minority, low-income, and aging households, and individuals with disabilities, The Leadership Conference took a strong role in ensuring that our members' constituencies would continue to have access to free over-the-air television signals during the digital television transition. Free over-the-air television offers the nation's most vulnerable populations uninterrupted access to their key source of news and information and emergency warnings. People of color currently comprise 40 percent of broadcast-only homes, and the number of over-the-air households is increasing rather than decreasing," the groups said.

But the conference also warned that if auctioning "some spectrum" is appropriate, those who remain should not be allowed to avoid public interest obligations and that minorities have an opportunity to bid on that spectrum.

Conference members include a wide variety of groups, from major unions to the AARP, from the NAACP and the ACLU to the Elks and Common Cause.