While legislation authorizing incentive auctions left the FCC to interpret what best efforts would entail when it comes to protecting the TV stations that remain in business, legislators representing various minority constituents have sent the commission a clear signal.
Members of the Congressional Hispanic, Black and Asian Pacific American Caucuses (together the Tri-Caucus) have told the FCC that it needs to make sure that its constituents have uninterrupted access to their local TV stations, and at no degradation of loss of service, after the FCC repacks stations.
In a letter to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, they call for a "fully transparent" process that allows for the opportunity to review and comment on the FCC's plans before any "irreversible" decision is made. The chairman has signaled in the draft incentive auction proposal, which is scheduled for a vote Friday (Sept. 28), that the FCC will do both.
But the FCC has also signaled that it is not yet ready to outline just how it will repack stations to optimize the clearing of blocks of spectrum for wireless.
In making the request for transparency and input, the caucus members also pointed out that their members are disproportionately affected by the auctions since they are heavier free TV watchers than the general population.
They also ask the FCC to insure that spectrum reclamation does not "stunt the growth of multicasting," which they point out has been "an effective platform for niche minority programming."
That is a point the National Association of Broadcasters, which provided a copy of the letter--has been making. The concern is that reducing broadcasters spectrum also reduces the available space to to deliver multicast channels. In addition, the greatest need for more spectrum is in crowded urban markets, where the stations most likely to give up spectrum--the major affiliates have shown no interest--are smaller, independent stations, just the ones most likely to be doing niche programming.
While the caucus members said they were all for stimulating the wireless ecosystem with more spectrum, they also said that given the dependence of minority communities on broadcast TV, "maintaining a robust free and local broadcasting system must remain a priority for the FCC."