LPTVs Air Repack Grievances to House Panel

While not represented at Thursday's House hearing on the post-incentive auction TV station repack, the LPTV Spectrum Rights Coalition has a lot to say.

In a letter submitted for the hearing record, coalition director Mike Gravino pointed out that as many as 3,100 LPTV stations will be displaced from the UHF channels 38-50 that are being cleared for use by wireless broadband winning bidders in the forward auction.

LPTV stations and translators were not protected in the repack, did not get to give up their spectrum, and are not guaranteed new homes in the repack.

Related: Tower Guy to Hill: Post-Auction Repack Should Not Be Rushed

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) has proposed legislation, the Viewer Protection Act of 2017, which would provide an additional $1 billion in repack funding above the current $1.75 billion and allow any leftover funds to be used to help LPTV's and translators. But Gravino said that while that was a welcome change, the industry should not have to rely on leftovers.

"Whatever the final out of pocket costs to our industry, it will surely exceed $300 million over the next four years," he said in the letter to House Communications Subcommittee Chair Marsha Blacbkburn (R-Tenn.). "The FCC has never studied this and needs to do it now!"

That extends to a proposal by the FCC and unlicensed wireless advocates that the last available channel in a market after the repack go to unlicensed. That would mean one fewer channel in each market that could go to relocate LPTVs and translators. He said the FCC should do an economic impact study before making such a move.

Related: NAB Says FCC Should Help LPTVs

He suggests that if those pushing the proposal wanted the spectrum so badly—Microsoft is a major backer of freeing up that vacant channel, and even more channels, for unlicensed—they could have bid for it in the auction.

"Our Coalition went to the major unlicensed advocates and offered to them for sale LPTV spectrum in key urban areas which they would need to complete a national unlicensed band," said Gravino, but "they refused to consider paying for the spectrum rights. Over 80% of the country (rural areas) has substantial spectrum reserves they can already use but have not. Now they want the coveted major urban 6 MHz channels which LPTV needs to repack into. And they want it for free."

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.