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Noncoms Push FCC to Preserve Universal Service

Top public broadcast officials paid a call to the FCC to push for a guarantee that there would be some spectrum reserved for noncommercial broadcasting in each market.

Noncoms have already petitioned the FCC to make that change in its May incentive auction order, but it made the point in numbers they hope are too big to ignore, including PBS president Paula Kerger, CPB president Patricia Harrison and almost a half-dozen top execs from both organizations, all of whom met with Gary Epstein, chief of the Incentive Auction Task Force, Bill Lake, chief of the Media Bureau, and FCC managing director Jon Wilkins.

They pointed out that universal service is their statutory mission, and that the FCC has supported that mission in the past and should do so into the future.

They want the FCC to rewrite the May order to specify that if a noncom gives up its entire channel for auction, at least one channel will be reserved during repacking of stations, essentially a placeholder, to enable a new noncom to take its place.

They signaled that would allow all noncoms potentially to volunteer to participate in the auction, something the FCC would certainly welcome.

They discussed one possible variant of their proposal—setting aside a VHF for noncoms—UHFs are the new gold standard of spectrum in the digital age.

They also emphasized that if noncoms share their channel, the noncommercial channel reservation needs to survive intact in any change of control.