NABOB to FCC: Put Vacant Channel Decision on Hold

The National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters (NABOB) has told the FCC that reserving the last vacant channel, or even two channels, for unlicensed in the repack of broadcast spectrum after the incentive auction could potentially harm African American and other minority TV station ownership.

It wants the FCC to hold off making a decision on the proposal until the FCC has conducted the auction and repacked full-power stations.

The FCC has proposed that, where repacking existing stations leaves open channels, at least one should be reserved for unlicensed use. That, of course, would foreclose a new broadcast channel—perhaps minority owned—in those markets. It could also potentially displace most low powers—all but Class As—whose channels are not protected in the repack.

NABOB points out that there are only 9 African American-owned full power stations (six tenths of one percent) and 24 LPTVs in the entire country.

NABOB praised a number of diversity initiatives the FCC has undertaken but said the unlicensed channel reservation could undo that good work.

"The vacant channel proposal has the potential to harm minority television station ownership  by turning over a channel to unlicensed services that might be needed to provide replacement television channels for low power television stations," NABOB said.

NABOB pointed to a National Association of Broadcasters study that found that if the FCC cleared 120 MHz of spectrum (on the higher end of the FCC's targets), 688 low power TVs would already be forced off the air, and if it adopted the vacant channel proposal for one, or even two channels as some have proposed, another 433 would bite the dust.

Given that the auction could winnow the paucity of African American owners even more, with the allure of a multimillion dollar payday, NABOB says the FCC should be doing everything it can to keep those that remain on the air. "Giving away channels that may be needed by those stations goes completely against that objective," it said.

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.