If you have ever traveled to Europe, you know that its cell phone service is much superior to the overall connection in the United States.
To address this disparity, the U.S. federal government rightfully determined it should update the communications infrastructure in this country, but it didn’t fully think the process through. While the result is now a bit of mess, Congress is working diligently to fill in the cracks.
To correct the country’s outdated spectrum, the Federal Communications Commission held its first-ever broadband incentive auction on March 29, 2016. This year, over $19 billion was amassed from the finished sale, with the federal government receiving $7 billion.
Often, Washington’s vision does not come out as rosy as originally expected, and the incentive auction was no exception. For those who rely on cellphone and Wi-Fi technology, positives will come from this FCC sale; however, unforeseen TV and radio signal interruptions will soon arise with them, canceling many of the good outcomes.
In 2012, Congress passed a relocation fund package for TV stations affected by the recent spectrum change, but it was not able to accurately predict the full effects of the auction five years ahead of time. We now know that enough resources were not devoted to ensuring that hundreds of displaced channels remain on the air.
But TV signal is not all that consumers have to worry about. In many cases, communications towers share radio, TV, and cell phone services, so a change in one could impact the ability of the others to broadcast. A recent analysis identified 678 FM stations at risk for disruption as 997 television stations changed channel positions because of the auction. Engineers at Kansas-based V-Soft Communications concluded it is also possible that some FM stations could lose their antenna positions entirely, as a total of 1,150 changes will be needed at television transmitter sites.
Reparations won't take care of everything. Ten percent of Americans may still lose some TV/radio channels even with fully-powered backup facilities and the government’s best effort to right any potential conflicts. We can only hope that the government does everything in its power to protect as many TV and radio stations as possible.
FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, who was involved in the drafting process of the Spectrum Act, said Congress “intended to hold harmless repacked broadcasters” and that TV viewers and radio listeners shouldn’t lose access to programming due to the repack’s budget. He also noted that the statute didn’t include reimbursement for the small number of local radio stations that will be affected by the repack, something he called “a potential oversight.”
As a person who makes his living by being on radio and TV, I cringe when I hear a bureaucrat say that something they didn’t consider was, “A potential oversight.” After all, how significant is the oversight? Nevertheless, Washington is working to correct the problem before relocation, and that’s all that matters.
Congress is considering several possible fixes. Among them is a bill put forth by Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas). Called the Viewer and Listener Protection Act of 2017, it will provide funds to make sure that no broadcaster is forced off the air. Another bill authored by Congressman Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey) would similarly establish a “Viewer Protection Fund” to protect broadcast viewers affected by the repack fully and expeditiously. Both will provide solutions to clean up the mess that Congress accidentally made in the first place.
The federal government cannot give to one industry by taking from another sector. Doing so would be immoral and disrespectful to a swath of consumers and businesses. Thankfully, it seems that Congress understands this. Now, the American people need to ensure that their representatives do not take “commercial breaks” from resolving this concern. The $7 billion Washington made from the spectrum sale cannot and should not be used in vain.
Dan Perkins is an author of both thrillers and children’s books. He appears on over 1,100 radio stations. Mr. Perkins appears regularly on international TV talk shows, he is current events commentator for seven blogs, and a philanthropist with his foundation for American veterans, Songs and Stories for Soldiers, Inc. More information about him, his writings, and other works are available on his website, DanPerkins.guru. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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