Tuesday, July 25, 2017

9 farm lobbies push back against Microsoft's plans for rural broadband, say it will hurt broadcasters

Ajit Pai (FCC photo)
Nine lobbying groups representing rural interests are protesting Microsoft's push to reserve TV spectrum channels for unlicensed use, John Eggerton reports for Broadcasting & Cable. Microsoft argues that it needs the spectrum to provide rural areas with broadband internet service, but "cattlemen, wheat growers, 'agri-women' and state agriculture departments" wrote a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai saying they need the spectrum because broadcasting is vital to keep rural areas connected to each other. "While our organizations certainly understand the need for improved broadband access in rural America and support the deployment of high-speed broadband in our communities, this proposal will only serve to deprive our members of critical access to local broadcast television coverage," they wrote.

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.

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