Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, expressed concern Thursday that plans to incentivize broadcasters to give up their spectrum could hurt Detroit's over-the-air television stations.
"I am concerned that possible future spectrum auctions and repackaging by the federal government have the potential to affect the ability of local Detroit broadcasters to operate in our community," Conyers, who represents Detroit, said in a statement. Wireless carriers argue they need more spectrum, the public airwaves that devices use to transmit signals, to meet the increasing demands of smartphones and tablet computers. Legislation pending in both houses of Congress would give the Federal Communications Commission the authority to auction the spectrum of volunteering broadcasters to wireless companies, splitting the revenue between the U.S. Treasury and the broadcasters that participate.
The government might also require some broadcasters that do not participate in the auctions to move to new frequencies, a process known as "repacking."
The legislation would also allocate spectrum for a nationwide broadband network for first responders.
The National Association of Broadcasters argues the plan could force broadcasters in Detroit off the air because of a treaty with Canada that prevents them from accessing Canadian spectrum.
“NAB appreciates Rep. Conyers’ support for an enduring American institution: free and local television," said Dennis Wharton, NAB's vice president of communications. "We look forward to working with him and other policymakers to avoid a reckless repacking of TV spectrum that would hinder the ability of local stations to serve communities with quality news, entertainment and life-saving emergency weather warnings.”
Conyers said he plans to communicate his concerns to other lawmakers and the FCC.
"While I agree that first responders must have enough spectrum and funds to roll out a national communications network for public safety, we must also ensure that local broadcasters are not harmed in this process," he said. "In the coming days, I plan to reach out to the FCC and my colleagues in Congress to ensure that Detroit broadcasters are not harmed in any potential future auction authorized by the FCC or proposed in any new legislation."