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Clyburn, McDowell Express Concerns About Broadband Plan

Clyburn cites potential affect of spectrum auction on women and minority-owned stations

Reaction to the Federal Communication Commission’s proposal to increase the availability and speed of broadband Internet connections over 10 years continues to come in.

While the plan does not involve radio broadcast frequencies, the proposal could impact frequencies that stations use for STLs, remote pick-ups and wireless mics. It also could represent a shift in how regulators treat broadcast license holders generally.

TV stations face the prospect under the plan of paying a new spectrum fee for use of airwaves. The plan also calls for recovering and auctioning off about 20 television channels’ worth of airwaves from TV broadcasters. NAB has reacted strongly to that.

Chairman Julius Genachowski said implementation of the $20 billion plan is essential so the U.S. can remain competitive in the global marketplace.

Fellow Democrat Commissioner Michael Copps stated that while the plan raises questions, it’s headed in the right direction, saying there must be digital inclusion for everyone to full take part in 21st century life. He singled out native Americans living on tribal land as having an “unacceptable state of communications” that the plan seeks to address. Another focus of the plan is ensuring accessibility for persons with disabilities, he said.

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, also a Democrat, praised the Spectrum Dashboard concept, meant to increase transparency about spectrum use; however she has “serious concerns” about proposed government re-purposing of some of the TV spectrum, saying the plan does not contain a rigorous analysis of the practical implications of that. Clyburn says that’s a serious concern, “given that the broadcast spectrum is the lone spectrum through which our nation’s public interest goals are effectuated.”

Clyburn is also troubled about the impact a spectrum auction might have on women and minority-owned broadcast television stations. “In my view, we may be doing the country a disservice if our actions left Americans relying on over-the-air television with only the major networks at the expense of smaller stations serving niche audiences who rely on them for their news and information.”

Commissioner Robert McDowell, a Republican, said the FCC should explore its authority to provide television broadcasters an incentive to lease their spectrum. “Focusing on this statutorily permissible and voluntary mechanism for leasing parts of the airwaves may be an easier path to accelerating deployment of advanced wireless services than more coercive means.”

And the commission, McDowell, said, should quickly auction spectrum that is not being used.

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