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Legislators Seek FCC Plan For Protecting Border Viewers

An octet of congressfolk led by House Communications Subcommittee ranking member Anna Eshoo (D- Calif.) have asked FCC acting chairwoman Mignon Clyburn how she plans to protect viewers in border areas if the FCC does not conclude spectrum negotiations with Canada and Mexico before it starts repacking stations after incentive auctions.

In a letter to Clyburn, they say they want to make sure viewers in those areas continue to get over-the-air broadcasts "to the extent mandated by the act."

The spectrum legislation requires the FCC to make its best efforts to replicate coverage areas for TV stations that want to stay in businesses after the auctions, so there is some wiggle room in the definition.

But the FCC is unlikely to be able to reclaim as much spectrum from border markets as it does in other parts of the country and still leave some areas, like Detroit, with any over-the-air stations, something one of the letter-signers, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) has long been concerned about.

The FCC has heard from scores of legislators on the issue of coordinating with Canada and Mexico, including representing top market New York City.

In written answers to Dingell back in July, Clyburn pointed out that the spectrum act says station reallocation is subject to international coordination, the same language the commission used to describe coordination with Canada during the 2009 DTV transition, which continued after the June 15 transition date. She said the FCC had not yet decided the question in an order, but might well make the same interpretation.

They did not advise her not to go there but did say that if the FCC does take that route, it wants to know just how it will manage to do so while protecting border broadcasters and their viewers.

"We hope to ensure that all Americans retain access to free, over-the-air broadcast signals," they wrote. And asked for a "timely" response.

A spokesperson for Clyburn was not available for comment at press time.