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LPTVs Unconvinced by FCC Chair

Low Power TV advocates were not reassured by FCC chairman Tom Wheeler's pledge to Congress that the FCC was taking steps to mitigate the impact of the post-incentive auction TV station repack on LPTVs and translators, which he called important voices.

Following an FCC oversight hearing in the House Communications Subcommittee at which Wheeler talked about the fate of LPTVs and translators, which are not participating in the incentive auction and do not have interference or channel placement protection after it per statute, LPTV Spectrum Rights Coalition director Mike Gravino said the clock "is ticking" and that "if both the FCC and Congress do not want the incentive auction held up in the Court of Appeals, there had better be an accommodation for major market urban LPTV and small market and rural translators."

In an email to members Wednesday (July 29) a day after the hearing, Gravino said his takeaway from the hearing was that "the FCC does not have an impact analysis for LPTV and TV translators, and that the auction process is a great unknown based on which broadcasters and buyers participate."

Of particular concern to Gravino and his members is an FCC plan to reserve the last vacant channel in a market—it is unclear just how many markets that would affect—to unlicensed wireless. "[T]here are over 900 cities of license where there is only one LPTV or TV translator license, meaning unlicensed would get that last remaining channel," Gravino said.

Gravino was not the only LPTV advocate unhappy after the hearing.

"In its zeal to create new unlicensed channels by eliminating LPTV and TV Translators, the FCC is learning that it may not be as simple and clean as twisting congressional intent, especially, if those in congress who wrote the words, disagree with the FCC's interpretation of Congress's words," said Louis Libin, executive director of LPTV group the Advanced Television Broadcasting Alliance.

That was a reference to the chairman's point at the hearing that it was Congress that did not protect LPTVs or translators in the repack. Wheeler said the FCC would continue to balance competing interests, which he suggested was the challenge to the auction writ large.

Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) indicated during questioning that his intent—he helped write the incentive auction legislation—was that the important local voices of LPTVs and the translators that relay signals to hard-to-reach, often rural areas like his district, not be stilled.