PBS, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Assn. of Public Television Stations are chiding the FCC for not ensuring that all viewers will have access to free public television after it conducts its auction of broadcast airwaves for wireless use.
Under the terms of the framework for the auction, stations can voluntarily choose to give up their spectrum and share in the proceeds when the airwaves are put up for bid. But the public TV organizations fear that if a market’s sole public TV station chooses to give up their airwaves, it will leave some cities with no public TV outlet.
In a statement issued on Friday, the organizations said that they were “obliged to express our profound disappointment” that the FCC “has rejected one of public television’s most important policy goals in the auction progress — our request that the Commission ensure that no community find itself without free access to public television service in the aftermath of the auction.”
Public television organizations said that the FCC has rejected their effort to get assurances that each market will have at least one public TV station.
“The Public Broadcasting Act specifically mandates that public television reach every American citizen, everywhere in the country, for free, and for more than 60 years the Commission’s own policies on spectrum reserved for noncommercial educational television have honored and safeguarded that mandate,” the organizations said.
“We believe the Commission’s rejection of this long-standing policy is a grievous error that risks breaking faith with the nation’s commitment to universal service for non-commercial educational television.”
Broadcasters also have expressed concerns over what happens to stations that choose to keep their spectrum. Some UHF stations will have to be moved on the channel lineup, in a process called “repacking,” to make way for contiguous spectrum for wireless services. PBS, CPB and the APTS did note that the agency’s auction framework did protect those stations’ reach to specific existing viewers.
The organizations also praised the FCC for accepting other requests they made, like providing advance payments to stations to cover costs of relocating on the channel lineup.
But their criticism was notable for its stridency.
A spokeswoman for the Assn. of Public Television Stations said that while a market without a public TV station “may seem unlikely, it is possible and the consequences could be dire and unprecedented. We asked the FCC to include a protection in its auction mechanism and design that will prevent this from happening. They declined to do so.”
A spokeswoman for the FCC said they had no comment.