House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) says that if the FCC decides to set aside a channel for unlicensed use after the broadcast incentive auction and give it precedence over broadcasters, he thinks that "violates the law."
The FCC is currently considering a proposal to set aside a channel for unlicensed in a handful of markets where, to insure it can free up as much spectrum as possible for wireless, the FCC plans to put TV stations in that gap, where unlicensed devices are also operating.
The FCC, at the urging of broadcasters and others, has put off making a decision on that channel until it sees how the repack goes.
Walden was advising a group of low-power TV station and translator owners at an LPTV event on the day before the FCC's Aug. 6 public meeting at which it voted on a number of spectrum-related issues. One member of that group suggested they felt "hosed" by what they saw as the FCC's priority for finding unlicensed spectrum over protecting them in the repack of TV stations after the broadcast incentive auction.
Now is the time to "turn the heat up" on Congress and the FCC about the status of low-power TV's and translators after the upcoming incentive auction, he told them.
Walden, who helped draft the legislation creating the auction, said he had not meant for the FCC to make LPTV's and translators secondary to unlicensed channels. "It was never the intent of the legislation to silence LPTV or translators," he said. Walden is a former broadcaster and translator owner, so he said local broadcasting is basically baked into his DNA.
But he also pointed out, with an assist from top aide Ray Baum, who was also in attendance, that while LPTV backers were working hard for their interests, the FCC was also being pushed by powerful cable and Silicon Valley lobbyists for all the unlicensed spectrum they could get.
Walden also told his audience that there was an FCC majority that "probably was pro-more unlicensed rather than not--[he cited Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel as a proponent of the unlicensed channel option], and may even be somewhat dismissive of LPTV and translators and the roll they play."
One audience member said they had met with Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and thought she might have "cracked the door" open for help, saying she had made the point to them that she watched free TV and understood their issues.
Walden would not commit to opening another opportunity for low-powers to upgrade to Class A status after the auction, but said he would be willing to consider it. About 15 years ago, the FCC gave LPTV's a chance to upgrade to Class A status, which provides more protections from interference and displacement (and allows them to participate in the auction). But that option was not open to anyone who got their license after that window to upgrade closed.