Established by the United Nations in 1996, World Television Day celebrates TV as a vital communications medium around the globe. TV informs us, entertains us and moves us every day, and is an empowering educational tool all over the world.
In the United States, free, local broadcast television stations across the country provide in-depth local news, emergency updates and the most-watched programming. Whether you’re looking for daily traffic and weather, local and national news or just some time to relax and unwind, local broadcasters are here for you! The future of TV is about preserving this valuable public service for generations and innovating to ensure you can rely on local TV anywhere, anytime.
Learn more about the event and TV’s role around the world at WorldTelevisionDay.tv.
Here at The Future of TV, we’ve been sharing our concerns that the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) proposed plan to auction off broadcast spectrum doesn’t contain enough protection for the services TV viewers rely on. One issue is the failure to preserve spectrum for use by wireless microphones.
Wireless equipment helps local news stations cover breaking stories on scene. These stories – often lifesaving weather or emergency information – come to viewers quickly and seamlessly with current state-of-the-art equipment. These microphones are also used across many other industries, as discussed in this story from NPR. Before current wireless microphones were developed, older equipment:
…used the same band of frequencies as FM radio stations so interference was an issue. It would also drift off of its frequency and cause the PA system to blast the audience with noise. Today’s wireless mics are much more reliable, in part, because many of them use vacant UHF television channels with very little potential for interference. The Federal Communications Commission estimates that around 4 million wireless mics are in use nationwide at everything from kids’ birthday parties to pro sports events.
As NPR shows, issues with these little microphones could cause big problems in the news and entertainment that millions of Americans rely on and impose new costs on businesses across the country. Now, it’s up to the FCC to prevent that harm.
Here at The Future of TV, we’ve been expressing our concern for some time that the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) proposed spectrum repacking could threaten rural TV viewers’ access to their favorite channels. For citizens in tiny Moapa Valley, Nev., that danger is all too real.
The Moapa Valley Progress published a detailed report on their town’s over-the-air TV access. Like many rural areas, Moapa Valley relies on TV translators to help TV signals travel from nearby cities to more remote areas. Without these translators, residents would lose many of their TV channels, robbing them of important news and emergency information, not to mention their favorite shows. The FCC’s proposed auction plan could hamper their district’s ability to provide local TV services.
As the Moapa Valley TV District Board Chairman David Pray said:
I always use the example of the little old lady in Overton. What options does she have? We don’t have cable service available in our area. On a fixed income, she can’t afford to pay the $40-$80 per month for satellite TV. And she is homebound and really relies on our service to get information to her. Without that, she would simply not have television service. That is an example of someone who will be hurt the worst by all of this.
As outlined in the Moapa Valley Progress, the FCC’s spectrum repacking plan could limit the amount of spectrum available to the translators that provide rural TV service and impose costs on local broadcasters and communities all across the country.
If you’re a rural resident concerned about losing TV service because of the FCC’s spectrum auction, speak up. Write, call, tweet or email your members of Congress today and let them know that local TV is important to you. Urge them to carefully monitor the FCC’s actions to ensure you don’t lose the channels you depend on most.
When dangerous weather strikes, local TV stations go wall-to-wall with the urgent information their viewers need to know to stay safe.
Arkansas’ KHBS/KHOG-TV was committed to covering May’s devastating tornadoes:
Indiana’s WFIE recapped their news coverage of a severe storm earlier in May:
The Perryville, Ark., woman who wrote to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette said it best: local stations ‘“had great concern in telling residents in the path of the tornado when to take cover, and I truly feel their actions helped save lives.”’
Even wireless carrier Sprint recently praised the efforts of broadcasters in emergencies. Sprint touted the NextRadio app, which its customers use to access broadcast radio through their smartphones, as an important disaster safety feature, saying it, “can be a lifeline to citizens when other communication networks suffer disaster-related outages.”
During summer months, when devastating storms and other severe weather can strike our communities, make sure to tune into your local stations for constant emergency updates. Even when the Internet and cell phones go down, you can count on your local broadcasters to stay on the air to keep you safe.
On May 15, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted on an order to establish a framework for broadcast spectrum incentive auctions. Unfortunately, the framework includes rules that could harm television viewers and local businesses. FCC Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly dissented from the vote for a variety of reasons and the National Association of Broadcasters, which represents TV stations across the country, expressed disappointment in the order after it was adopted.
Some of the top concerns for broadcasters and their viewers include:
- Viewer access to local TV channels. “OET-69” sounds like something from outer space, but it has an important purpose on planet Earth – it’s the name of the method that has been used to figure out what areas and viewers are covered by a local broadcast station’s over-the-air signal. Though the Spectrum Act passed by Congress required the FCC to use this method to determine coverage, the FCC wants to use a different system, which means many viewers could lose their favorite local channels.
- Local breaking news coverage. Local news organizations, especially television and radio broadcasters, cover urgent, on-the-scene breaking news to keep their viewers and listeners safe. The FCC wants to limit the amount of spectrum available for the equipment needed to report live and remotely, which could keep TV viewers from hearing important news just when they need it most.
- Imposing large costs on local stations. After the spectrum auction, many broadcasters – even some who chose not to participate – will be involved in a process called “repacking.” Local TV stations will be forced to move into different channels to free larger blocks of spectrum for wireless carriers. This process could impose large costs on affected broadcasters that would not be covered by the government, draining vital funds from stations and impacting local economies.
There are other significant problems with the order, including making the auction process needlessly complicated and failing to address important concerns for rural viewers and viewers who live near the Canada and Mexico borders.
When Congress authorized the spectrum auction, it established boundaries that clearly intended to protect broadcast TV viewers from harm. In passing this order, the FCC has failed to honor Congress’ intent.
Guest Blogger: NAB Spectrum Expert Rick Kaplan, Executive Vice President of Strategic Planning
At last week’s Senate Commerce Committee hearing on “Crafting a Successful Incentive Auction,” the executive director of the Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition (EOBC) sounded the alarm that the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) upcoming incentive auction was on the path to complete failure. The reason? The FCC is allegedly not moving fast enough to inform broadcasters exactly how much money the agency plans on shelling out for their spectrum licenses and that the agency may be considering reverse auction rules that approximate the actual value of spectrum licenses. He concluded that anything that gets in the way of paying broadcasters handsomely for their spectrum licenses is going to lead to auction catastrophe.
Let me ease your minds: There is no cause for alarm. The sky is not falling. Broadcasters are patient, digesting what emerges from the FCC and recognize that this is a long, complex process.
The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), along with the Association of Public Television Stations (APTS), represents the true interests of all broadcasters. Our aim is to serve America’s local broadcasters and to expand their opportunities in the 21st century, whatever they might be. We have members who will continue broadcasting for decades to come and others that may look to the incentive auction as an opportunity to exit the business after a long history of serving their communities.
The EOBC, while apparently made up of companies that hold licenses in the broadcast band (its membership list is a closely guarded secret), does not represent broadcasters. In many respects, this group seems to stand in stark contrast to what is in the best interests of broadcasters and broadcasting. Its mission is singular: to capitalize on regulatory arbitrage. Its aim is to make sure that its members are paid as much money as possible and paid as quickly as possible for their spectrum licenses.
While there is nothing wrong with having one’s own interests at heart, we must take the comments of this coalition in that context. This context explains why, as opposed to NAB, APTS, as well as the representatives of wireless companies and associations, cable companies and associations and public interest groups, the EOBC is not concerned with the resulting 600 MHz band plan, how international coordination impacts the future of television, interoperability, co-channel interference, or any other issue beyond how much they get paid and how quickly. The day their checks are cashed, their engagement in this auction ends; the EOBC has no interest in the subsequent repacking or consumer welfare.
The FCC staff is working hard to solve dozens of challenges in this extremely complicated auction. The agency is not close – nor should it be at this point – to determining starting prices in markets or even to confirming which markets are eligible for auction. These are very difficult questions among many others that need to be sorted out over time.
If done right, the FCC will make it as easy as possible for willing broadcasters to participate in the auction. In practice, this means ensuring that broadcasters understand the rules of the road and that their participation does not require an army of economists or mathematicians. There should be low barriers to entry. The process will take time, and in all likelihood will require the cooperation of those such as NAB and APTS, that truly represent broadcasters. These broadcast advocates want to weigh the potential benefits of participation, not just quick-hit investors looking to turn a quick profit because of the government’s unique offer to buy back licenses.
NAB has been engaged with the FCC to ensure the auction’s success and viewer protection from start to finish. Success for us includes, but goes far beyond, those looking to profit on their licenses. So, when Congress, the FCC and the public ask where broadcasters stand, and how can we ensure success for the auction – both for participants and non-participants – they should look to NAB and APTS. These associations represent America’s television broadcasters – not just companies that happen to hold licenses – and are focused on both the short- and long-term success of the industry.
The Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Tom Wheeler, published a blog post last week announcing changes to the FCC’s planned timeline for broadcast spectrum incentive auctions. Originally planned for the beginning of 2014, the auctions are now targeted for mid-2015. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) appreciates this more realistic schedule, which gives the FCC more time to ensure that viewers aren’t needlessly harmed by hasty changes to our communications infrastructure.
In his testimony during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on spectrum this week, the National Association of Broadcasters’ spectrum expert Rick Kaplan, noted that an “unduly rushed” process could threaten the success of the auction.
Kaplan raised several essential components in crafting a successful auction. Among them, he urged the FCC to “make all reasonable efforts to preserve non-auction participants’ coverage areas and populations served.” Post-auction, television stations that choose to remain on the air will go through a process called “repacking,” in which stations may have to move channels to create large blocks of spectrum. TV viewers should not lose access to channels that remain on the air as a result of a poorly managed repacking process. Kaplan added that a successful auction includes developing a good long-term plan that ensures rural and minority viewers do not lose free TV service.
Avoiding harm to viewers is a top priority for broadcasters and the millions of viewers who rely on broadcast television. Broadcast stations provide America’s favorite sports and entertainment programming – including more than 90 of the 100 highest-rated television shows – but that’s just the beginning. Stations have an unparalleled commitment to serving in communities across the country, providing life-saving emergency information, local news and meaningful public service.
Broadcasters have maintained from the beginning of the broadcast spectrum incentive auction process that the most important goal is getting the auction done right, not merely as quickly as possible. This new, more realistic timeline is a victory for viewers across the country.