GAO Study and Report Sees Trouble Ahead With the FCC Incentive Auction for TV Translators and Low Power TV Stations

The spectrum auction currently being undertaken by the U.S. Government will have significant, and as yet unmeasured effects on existing Low Power TV stations and TV Translators (LPTV.) This is the major finding of a report released last week by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), an investigative arm of the U.S. Congress.

To prepare the report, a survey was conducted in Summer of 2016, and obtained 115 responses, representing approximately one fourth of the licensed 2,063 LPTV stations, and over 40 per cent of the 3,660 licensed Translators. These stations will be forced to vacate their operating channels, if the same spectrum is displaced for wireless use by auction winners. If the stations cannot move to alternate channels in the remaining spectrum, they will need to cease operation. While GAO cautioned that their survey was not a scientific sample, some major themes and findings did emerge:

* Most LPTV stations are owned by for profit entities. But more than a third of the TV Translators are owned by government, schools, or non-profits. These are expected to be headed for trouble in finding necessary capital costs if they are required to relocate.

* For non-profit and for-profit stations alike, both Translators and LPTV’s often exist as single stations or small station groups that will not be able to afford the transition. Some owners depend on larger market stations to pay for small market ones. The loss of large market revenue will make their transition difficult.

* Because many LPTV and Translator viewers are economically or geographically disadvantaged, they may not have any alternative program sources if these stations are lost.

* Even where alternative program access is available, by internet or satellite services, the loss of niche programming on LPTV stations and Translators will not be replaced. Examples include specialized cultural programming, foreign language, and Tribal program services.

* For Translators specifically, many survey respondents indicated that they receive signals or re-transmit them in a chain of multiple stations. Stations in a daisy chain like this may be especially vulnerable in the auction.

As part of the digital transition the GAO in 2011 recommended that the FCC explore how Low Power TV and Translators contributed to localism and diversity, both using existing data and determining what new data was needed. For this report, the FCC officials stated to GAO that the 2012 legislation mandating incentive auctions signaled a

change in priorities away from LPTV and Translators. The FCC claimed that any assessment of the contribution of these stations to localism and diversity would not be consistent with the implementation of the incentive auction.

Proponents of LPTV and TV translators frequently cited their desire for financial assistance from the government, either through grants or cost reimbursement, to ease the cost of the transition. The FCC has studied and reported on costs for full service TV relocation (including Class A stations). But FCC officials told GAO that because Congress did not make LPTV stations or Translators eligible for relocation costs, the FCC did not study those costs.

The GAO reported sharp divisions of opinion regarding the FCC’s plan, in conjunction with the spectrum repacking, to set aside one full channel for the operation of unlicensed devices. Broadcast industry associations noted that this set-aside would make the repacking even more challenging for stations being displaced. Proponents of the set-aside told GAO that it would foster innovation and the development of new technologies and services. The FCC had received highly contrasting estimates of the likely impact from a broadcast trade group and from a major internet player.

There was consensus that measures adopted by the FCC to mitigate the effect of the auction upon LPTV and TV Translators will not be of much help. These measures are to allow channel sharing, to stretch out the transition deadlines, to provide channel identification software, and to facilitate trans-border coordination with Canada and Mexico. In the GAO survey 195 respondents in LPTV found these measures helpful, 292 not helpful. TV Translator respondents found them helpful, 295, and not helpful, 924. For many, channel sharing was cited as likely to degrade service, be cost prohibitive, or both.

The GAO report was prepared by the GAO’s group for Physical Infrastructure Issues, at the request of Rep. Anna Eschoo (D-CA), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX). The full report can be downloaded at:

Michael Couzens, Attorney at Law, ATBA Board Member


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Dear Fellow LPTV Broadcaster and Industry Leaders,

The auction has ended and most of us are still here.  While it was not only our hope but the hope of many others that the auction would not take place . . . it did, but it did not have the devastating effect that it might have had. 

The world after the auction looks different and amazingly so has a very bright future!

What does that future look like?  Not only the amazing possibilities of ATSC 3.0 but the landscape of a nation of people who are increasingly cutting their cable cords and looking for free, over the air, broadcasting content.

That’s why it’s more important than ever that you join the Advanced Television Broadcast Alliance.  Our board of directors have a combined 500+ years of experience which beginning with your membership we are going to start making more available to our members on an increasing basis.

Soon as an ATBA member, you will be eligible to start tapping into not only this brain trust through unique services available only to our members but regular news updates regarding our collective broadcast future.  We are exploring new ways to tap into information from Washington as well as important updates that will benefit you right there where you live.

The need for the ATBA has increased with the new opportunities that are becoming available for those of us who still know that the future of LPTV, Class A and Translators is bright!  Are you selling your station to local sponsors?  Are you maximizing your spectrum to the advantage that you truly can?  Are you struggling with FCC rules and regulations that you either don’t understand or can’t get explained?

The ATBA is developing a database of information to help you find the answers you need! 

In addition we are still working with the true decision makers in Washington.  Your ATBA has earned the respect and the ear of the true movers and shakers that continue to shape our collective broadcasting future.

So what can you do to get involved and begin to take advantage of these, and many other, benefits?  Join the ATBA today!  Your membership benefits will include:

  1. Members only access to hundreds of years of LPTV experience through our new “Brain Trust”
  2. Early entry to our annual NAB LPTV evening event with access to our special event guest(s)
  3. Exclusive digital content regarding real world information you need to know
  4. Eligibility for recognition for your hard work through our ATBA LPTV Awards
  5. Access to equipment manufacturers with discounts available especially for ATBA members!

To be honest you can’t afford not to be a member of the ATBA! 

We’re making it affordable because it’s a win – win!  When you join, you’re going to receive more than just the benefits listed above but also you’ll be aligning with hundreds of others who, like yourself, have a vested interest in the continued forward movement of free, over-the-air broadcasting.  It’s a win for your ATBA because we will increase our strength through numbers as we grow together.

So what’s the next step?  If you’re ready follow this link to sign up.  If you have more questions please don’t hesitate to call a member of the ATBA board of directors by calling this number (877) 214-4277.   You’ll get a rapid response!

Thanks for taking the time to read this note and for your ongoing passion for the future of communication in this great country.


The Board of Directors – The Advanced Television Broadcast Alliance