The NCSL Blog

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By Danielle Dean

Satellite dishOn Nov. 17, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released new tools to assist more than 150 broadcasters as they continue the process of transitioning TV stations onto new channels following the FCC incentive auction.

Congress authorized the FCC to implement the first-ever incentive auction to repurpose spectrum licensed to television broadcasters and reallocate it for wireless broadband use. As part of the incentive auction, the FCC is authorized to implement a spectrum “repack,” meaning some television stations will be assigned to new channels under a different spectrum band.

The incentive auction is designed to ease congestion on existing wireless networks and to prepare for fifth generation or 5G deployment.

Auction Results and Transition Schedule

The so-called reverse auction allowed broadcasters to voluntarily give up their spectrum rights, which freed 70 MHz of public airwaves in the 600MHz spectrum band for licensed use and an additional 14 MHz for unlicensed use. Afterward the FCC held a forward auction of the returned spectrum to wireless providers.

The results of the forward auction brought in close to $20 billion in revenue to the FCC, a portion of which will go to broadcasters to support the repack. About $7.3 billion will go to federal deficit reduction.

When looking at the participants in the reverse and forward auctions, about 987 stations will be repacked under new channel assignments. The FCC transition schedule has the entire repack ending in July 3, 2020.

By law, nearly 1,000 local stations across the country are moving to new channel frequencies during the next three years due to the FCC’s broadcast spectrum incentive auction. These moves will make room for wireless services 77 million viewers nationwide who use an antenna to watch local and network channels for free.

When these changes occur, viewers who watch television over the air with an antenna must rescan their TV sets to continue watching their local stations.

Why Are Consumer Education Efforts Important?

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) notes that the biggest challenge is getting the word out to those who will be affected by these station moves so that they don’t lose access to their local TV stations. Viewers who rely on an antenna to watch TV and do not subscribe to cable or satellite service are often seniors, rural Americans, minorities or lower-income families. These citizens who can be vulnerable during emergencies. Without this critical link to the community, many viewers could be left without access to emergency information.

Prepare Your Communities For Upcoming TV Changes

NAB estimates these TV station frequency moves will affect 77 million viewers nationwide who use an antenna to watch local and network channels for free. When these changes occur, viewers who watch television over the air with an antenna must rescan their TV sets to continue watching their local stations. And because the FCC is requiring stations to move at different times, viewers may need to rescan their TV sets more than once, each time a station moves to a new frequency.

The good news is that rescanning a TV set is a simple process. No new equipment or services are needed, and once the rescan is complete, viewers will still find the station on the same channel number as before.

What can state legislators and their staffs do to help spread the word? You can tell them about TVAnswers.org, a viewer resource provided by NAB, which features the latest news and information on these station changes. The website also has a searchable database with all the TV stations and the timeframe when stations must move frequencies.

Sharing alerts and rescanning instructions from TVAnswers.org on your websites and social media channels will ensure your constituents are prepared when your local stations change frequencies. Follow @TVAnswers and help spread the message.

Additional Resources

NCSL Resources

Spectrum Repack Resources

Danielle Dean is policy director with NCSL’s Communications, Financial Services and Interstate Commerce committee.

Email Danielle

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.