California Congress Members to FCC: Preserve Free TV

Lawmakers Point to Growing Contingent of Over-The-Air Only Viewers, including Diverse Populations

A number of members of Congress from California have written the FCC advising it that the FCC should make preserving viewer access to free over-the-air (FOTA) broadcasting a "top goal" of its incentive auction rulemaking.

In a letter Dec. 11, a day before the House hearing with FCC commissioners on the auctions, the legislators pointed to statistics that the number of viewers relying on FOTA had grown to 54 million, and was continuing to grow.

Given that California's diverse populations are even more likely to be over-the-air only viewers than the general population, they said preserving the service was "absolutely critical."

They said they were concerned that the FCC's incentive auction proposal -- released in September -- lacks details about border coordination with Mexico and Canada and details on potential viewer disruptions from the auction, including potential loss of programming.

At the hearing, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski suggested the FCC was still in the beginning stages of negotiations, but that he was confident they would be successful.

They also want some answers on the fate of low-power stations in California, which are not auction participants and which could lost their licenses in this latest DTV transition.

They said that freeing up spectrum for wireless was important, but should not come at the expense of low-power TVs.

Among the members signing on to the letter was Brian Bilbray, who raised the issue at the hearing. The chairman said the FCC would work with the committee to preserve LPTVs where it made sense, but also pointed out that there were obligations to the statute.