The US broadcast regulator FCC has said that TV stations could share channels, in a win for low-power TV (LPTVs) stations.
However, the order noted that channel-sharing will not confer new must-carry rights to LPTVs, and so these small stations will not be able to demand carriage obligations from cable, IPTV and satellite companies, unless they had must-carry status previously.
The order has two main effects: following the broadcast incentive auction many stations swapped their spectrum for cash and now can remain in business by striking spectrum-sharing deals with other local TV affiliates. Meanwhile, many Class A LPTVs will be displaced by spectrum repacking, which is the process of moving TV stations into the remaining spectrum not freed up in the auction. So the sharing provision gives them a path to viability.
Many LPTVs are public access-type stations that cater to the underserved — many are minority-owned and have limited resources, and the repacking process is expected to be expensive. The order said that LPTVs can now share with other LPTVs or full-power stations in order to stay on the air.
“NAB commends the commission for providing additional flexibility to channel-sharing broadcasters following the auction," said NAB EVP of communications Dennis Wharton. "By giving stations options to replace sharing agreements that expire or terminate after the auction, the Commission provides greater certainty for stations that choose to enter into such agreements.”
While the sharing protections are welcome news for LPTVs, FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn said that the FCC had missed an opportunity by “closing the door” on must-carry.
"In doing so, we have stricken from the order a simple acknowledgement that the 'benefits of channel sharing for secondary stations, outweigh any theoretical increase in the number of secondary stations cable operators may be required to carry,'" she said, adding that LPTVs can still attempt to negotiate carriage with local pay-TV distributors. "I am hopeful that many stations will find this to be a viable option."