Pubcasters Challenge Broadcast Incentive Auction

Public broadcasters have asked the FCC to change its proposed rules for the broadcast incentive auction to insure that at least one noncommercial station remains in each market, or at least a noncom-reserved channel is left open.

That came in a petition for reconsideration filed by the Association for Public Television Stations, which represents those local outlets, along with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Public Broadcasting Service.

"The incentive auction rules as adopted by the FCC overturn more than six decades of FCC precedent reserving spectrum for noncommercial educational service," said PBS President Paula Kerger, CPB President Patricia Harrison and APTS President Patrick Butler in a joint statement.

The FCC auction report and order, released in May, does affirm that the FCC wants to continue to reserve "adequate channel space" for noncoms by insuring that any noncom channel shared with a commercial one will remain noncommercial if and when that noncom relinquishes it in the future. But the noncom petitioners point out that If a noncom seeks to give up its license for auction, rather than share, no replacement noncom spectrum would be reserved for a new noncom entrant.

"This would de facto delete the reserved channel without 'carefully weighing the public interest effects of de-reservation' as is the Commission’s well-established practice," they argued. The answer, they say, is for the FCC to rewrite the 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.

The National Association of Broadcasters is also concerned with viewership losses stemming from the auction framework. It has challenged the auction framework in court, saying that its interference protections for stations after the auction are faulty and do not square with the statute.

The FCC is trying to get the auction done by mid-2015, which is fast approaching. Any challenges could affect that timetable, although a federal court has agreed to fast-track the NAB challenge.

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.