|Ajit Pai (FCC photo)|
Pai, who got the chair through President Trump, has made rural broadband access a main goal of the FCC. Several times in past years, the agency has reallocated space on the broadcast spectrum to make room for more broadband and other services that use the spectrum. This has often been accomplished through auctions in which private companies can bid on the rights to use certain parts of the spectrum. After the auction, stations are "repacked" or moved to different parts of the spectrum to accommodate the new channel assignments. The most recent was on March 30 of this year; stations will have 39 months to move to their new channels.
The protest letter says Microsoft's plan to use white spaces will leave less room for low-power TV stations and translators, which rebroadcast signals to remote areas. The letter says those are often the only means rural people have of receiving free TV. "Combining this loss of spectrum for unlicensed use with the sheer number of full-power stations needing to be repacked and the interference protections between neighboring stations, many LPTVs and television translators could be left without a new home and would be forced out of business," the letter said. "When local broadcast stations go dark, rural communities are deprived of a vital source of information that is essential for managing our day-to-day lives."
The groups that signed the letter were: American Agri-Women, Intertribal Agriculture Council, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, National Black Growers Council, National Farmers Union, Rural & Agriculture Council of America, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and Women Involved in Farm Economics.