Members of both parties in Congress want to make sure that any language involving spectrum repurposing in the television band in no way throws broadcasters under the bus. Four House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats have asked House leadership not to sacrifice television as part of any hasty budget deal.
The quartet includes Bobby Rush (D-IL) (pictured), Edolphus Towns (D-NY), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) and Donna Christensen (D-VI).
They are particularly concerned that smaller stations catering to niche or minority audiences might be imperiled it not treated fairly during any station repacking that may be necessary as part of an incentive auction program.
The urgency of action on the federal debt ceiling raised concerns that the hunt for quick cash from a spectrum auction may be too tempting to congressional leaders and could harm broadcasters.
In a letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), they wrote, “We would urge you to ensure that federal legislation and spectrum policies authorizing incentive auctions are structured so that broadcasters’ decision are truly voluntary, and so that broadcasters who wish to continue to serve the public may do so.”
They asked not just for the protection of individual broadcaster rights, but for protection of all the medium has to offer, saying, “As importantly, we also urge you to ensure that the legislation and policies to not work to deny viewers over-the-air access to diverse programming and emerging services, such as digital multicast, high definition, and mobile DTV.”
The specifically mentioned the new African American entrant into the broadcast network mix, Bounce TV, which will owe its very existence to digital side channels. They note that at present is already headed for 60 broadcast stations reaching 35% of the US television audience.
They concluded with a call to protect the needs of millions of Americans. “Broadcast television is relied upon by 99% of the American population. In fact, some 46 million Americans depend exclusively on free over-the-air broadcasting as their only source of television. Many of those viewers are impoverished, elderly, live in rural areas, or are members of an ethnic minority. As you are considering legislation to grant the FCC the authority to conduct voluntary incentive auctions, we ask that you consider the aforementioned safeguards and our concerns.”
RBR-TVBR observation: Sometimes positions on issues involving broadcasting break down along party lines, but often they do not. This is the reason that the NAB must remain a strictly non-partisan organization. It is critical to have friends on both sides of the aisle at all times.