Court OKs Pay Use of Public Spectrum


Upholding a recent Federal Communications Commission ruling, a federal appeals court May 9 held that public TV stations may use some digital spectrum to provide over-the-air pay-services.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously upheld a 2001 ruling by the FCC designed to give public TV stations greater flexibility in the digital age.

The U.S. has about 350 public TV stations and nearly 60 percent missed the FCC's May 1 deadline to begin transmitting digital-TV signals.

Addressing a challenge brought by the United Church of Christ and others, the court said the FCC did not violate the law or ignore past regulatory actions in allowing public TV stations to offer pay-services, as well as advertising embedded in the pay services.

While giving public stations greater flexibility, the FCC did mandate that they use their digital spectrum to broadcast at least one free off-air programming service.

The 14-page opinion was written by Judge Judith W. Rogers and joined by Judges Stephen F. Williams and A. Raymond Randolph.

The opinion was released just 59 days from the date of oral arguments — an unusually fast turnaround for a court that can take six months or more to announce rulings.