LPTVs Pitch FCC's O'Rielly on Repack Challenges, Opportunities

Michael Gravino, director of the LPTV Spectrum Rights Coalition, was at the FCC last week meeting with Republican commissioner Michael O'Rielly and top staffers to highlight the issues his members have had, are having, and will have, with the spectrum auction and its aftermath.

That, according to an ex parte filing with the FCC about the meeting, includes the financial stresses, uncertainty about displacement, and the business plans that have been on hold throughout the auction process.

Gravino said that over 3,000 LPTVs will be displaced in the repack. And that is just displacement from the UHF channels 39 through 50 being vacated to turn over to wireless broadband.

He says that another 4,000 displacements could result from the repacking of all those stations into channels 36 through 2, though just how much repacking needs to be done and how much displacing will not be known until after March 30, when the spectrum auction is finally over and the FCC releases the data on who won what and where, as well as issuing new channel assignments for the repack. 

Gravino also said that LPTV repack costs could reach $1 billion out of pocket over the repack period. By contrast, repacked full powers and Class As get to tap into a $1.75 billion relocation fund.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai has said closing the digital divide is a priority for him. Gravino pointed out to fellow Republican O'Rielly, that LPTV's could be a big help.

He said the coalition supports repurposing LPTV spectrum in digitally divided areas as WISPs (wireless internet service providers). "LPTV spectrum can be utilized immediately, at no cost to the government, to help solve the digital divide problem," he told the O'Rielly camp.

He suggested that if all LPTV licenses were allowed to be flexible use4—used for other than traditional broadcasting—the FCC could create a simple two-layered map: where added spectrum capacity can help close the digital divide and the location of the 10,000 LPTV and translators licenses/permits.

Gravino had some asks of the commission. First for the FCC to create that overlay map; second that the FCC finally conduct a study of the impact of the repack on LPTVs and translators; third that the FCC study the loss of public service obligations of the hundreds of stations—primaries, noncoms and Class As that will be going off the air after giving up their spectrum and whether upgrading some of the remaining LPTVs to Class A could help offset that; and fourth, that O'Rielly provide a short video greeting for LPTV coalition members meeting at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in April in Las Vegas.

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.