Three groups representing black, Hispanic, and Asian-Pacific Americans in Congress are calling on the Federal Communications Commission to ensure that a proposal aimed at freeing up spectrum from broadcasters for use by wireless carriers will not affect consumers' access to over-the-air television.
The heads of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus wrote FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski on Friday about the commission's efforts to implement legislation, passed by Congress in February, that authorizes "incentive auctions." These new auctions are aimed at enticing TV broadcasters to give up some of their spectrum for use by wireless operators, who say they need more spectrum to meet their customers' growing demand for wireless broadband technologies.
The FCC is expected to vote on a proposed rulemaking Friday that would begin the process of setting up the incentive auctions.
It's still unclear how many TV broadcasters may participate by choosing to give up their spectrum, share spectrum with another station, or agree to move from a more desirable UHF channel to a VHF channel. The lawmakers noted that minorities tend to rely exclusively on traditional over-the-air TV than other groups. For example, 33 percent of Spanish-speaking households rely on over-the-air TV for information and entertainment.
The lawmakers urged the FCC to ensure that broadcasters that decide to stay in business are not harmed in the relocation process that will be required to clear swaths of spectrum to auction from TV stations that choose to give up their airwaves. The lawmakers echoed a message from broadcasters, who pushed Congress to include protections in the incentive auction legislation for stations that decide not to participate.
"While we applaud the FCC's goal to stimulate the nation's wireless broadband ecosystem with new spectrum, we expect the FCC to ensure that there is no degradation or loss of service to our constituents," Reps. Judy Chu, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., the Congressional Black Caucus chairman, and Charles Gonzalez, D-Texas, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, wrote. "Given the dependence that our communities place on broadcast television...maintaining a robust free and local broadcasting system must remain a priority for the FCC."
The FCC's proposed rulemaking is expected to ask as many questions of interested stakeholders as it answers. It calls for comment on a number of possibilities for structuring the incentive auctions.